Expert report calls for “Safe System” thinking in road traffic safety

Main Image
The report’s Editorial Group, led by Iain Cameron (centre).
The report’s Editorial Group, led by Iain Cameron (centre).
Luxembourg’s Minister of Sustainable Development & Infrastructure, François Bausch: ‘Political courage gets results’.
Luxembourg’s Minister of Sustainable Development & Infrastructure, François Bausch: ‘Political courage gets results’.
UN Special Envoy for Road Safety, Jean Todt.
UN Special Envoy for Road Safety, Jean Todt.
The FIA Foundation’s Saul Billingsley spoke about the Safe System in cities.
The FIA Foundation’s Saul Billingsley spoke about the Safe System in cities.

A new report by the International Transport Forum reviews the experience of Safe System countries and cities and offers guidance for leaders who seek to drastically reduce road deaths in their communities.

Rapid motorisation in many lower-income countries points to rising numbers of road deaths in the future, while in many higher-income countries, progress in reducing fatalities has stalled. The ITF report ‘Zero Road Deaths and Serious Injuries: Leading a Paradigm Shift in Road Safety’ argues that to achieve the 50% reduction enshrined in the UN Sustainable Development Goals will require governments to fundamentally review their road safety policies. More than 30 road safety experts from 24 countries and organisations prepared the report, including the FIA Foundation.

The report, launched at the OECD’s headquarters in Paris, highlights how a group of pioneering countries and cities are leading the way. Sweden, the Netherlands and New York City, among others, base their road safety policies on “Vision Zero”, the aspiration that no-one should be killed in a crash. They operationalise this vision by transforming their road networks into a “Safe System” – i.e. a traffic ecosystem where all elements are designed and managed together to avoid crashes and, where they do occur, serious injuries or death. But the report also shows that a country’s level of economic development need be no barrier to adopting the principles of the Safe System.

Among the core recommendations are:

Be ambitious: Think safe roads, not just safer roads. The conventional approach to road safety seeks incremental improvements to current practice. A Safe System works backwards from the vision of eliminating road fatalities and serious injuries, thus creating new perspectives as to effective instruments

Be resolute: Foster a sense of urgency and lead the way. In the countries and cities that have adopted a Safe System, innovation occurred where political leaders strongly felt that the current approach no longer delivered. Strong and visionary leaders, who galvanise policy making as well as public opinion , open the way for others to follow and also ensure that a sense of urgency permeates the responsible government agencies.

Be inclusive: Establish shared responsibility for road safety. Today, avoiding harmful crashes is the responsibility of the road user. A Safe System requires everyone with a role in the traffic environment to recognise this role and assume responsibility for making traffic safe. Shared responsibility is the basis for integrated policies and complementary actions that leverage all parts of a Safe System for greater overall safety.

Be concrete: Underpin aspirational goals with concrete operational targets. Establish milestones that show the vision is long-term but realistic. The Swedish government was able to report in 2008 that no child had been killed in a bicycle crash that year. A number of cities in Europe, Japan and the US recorded no road fatality in the course of a year, and 16 towns in Europe of more than 50 000 inhabitants had no traffic fatalities in five years.

Iain Cameron, chairman of the Working Group, (main photo above) said: “We need a paradigm shift in road safety policy to stop the road death epidemic, and we need it now. It is unrealistic to expect that education and enforcement alone will bring the needed step change. Even road users who know and follow the rules make mistakes. A Safe System creates an environment in which simple mistakes will no longer kill people.”

José Viegas, Secretary-General of the International Transport Forum, which convened the Working Group, said: “There is huge potential for lower-income countries to leapfrog the spikes in road fatalities usually seen with growing car numbers, by drawing on lessons from the Safe System pioneers. Investments into capacity-building measures for those countries will pay off in human lives saved.”

The ITF report also highlights how cities can use a Safe System to improve road safety for the high share of vulnerable road users such as pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists or seniors in urban traffic. ITF will be launching a new network for cities seeking to improve their road safety performance at the UN Habitat III conference on 18 October.

Saul Billingsley, FIA Foundation Executive Director, who authored the report’s chapter on cities, said: “Cities can be pioneers in implementing the Safe System. Already megacities like New York and Sao Paulo have demonstrated how, by reducing vehicle speed and re-designing urban space to prioritise pedestrians and cyclists, it is possible to significantly reduce road traffic fatalities and enable a more liveable urban environment. This is the message we’ll be taking to Habitat III and in encouraging countries and cities to be ambitious in meeting the Sustainable Development Goals.”

The report Zero Road Deaths and Serious Injuries: Leading a Paradigm Shift in Road Safety is available online