NRSC 2023: Vision Zero/Safe System

13.35 | 15 November 2023 | | | 1 comment

Soundbites and images from the second session of the 2023 National Road Safety Conference, looking at Vision Zero and the Safe System.

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Dr Suzy Charman, Executive Director, Road Safety Foundation

Suzy Charman is the Executive Director for the Road Safety Foundation (RSF) and a leading expert on the Safe System with just under 20 years’ experience.

Presentation: Tools for vision zero and the realities of delivering a Safe System

Our focus shouldn’t be on eliminating all crashes, rather we recognize that some crashes are OK because they are typically not severe in outcome. Well-designed roundabouts give us a good example of this.

Here we have much higher overall conflicts and crashes, but they are typically much lower in severity because of lower speeds from carefully managed approaches and when you are on the roundabout the possible angles of collision are favourable and are glancing blows rather than right angle.

Our road infrastructure approach therefore needs to be systematic and strategic, It needs to be based on survivability and we need to proactively manage risk.

I’m always really inspired by the progressive approach to road safety taken by the Dutch in their sustainable safety initiative. Here they have Vision Zero as their long term goal and they have systematically worked towards a road network that is both safe and credible for those users that are expected to be present.

  • For car to pedestrian crashes the impact speed at which only 10% of crashes will be severe is 15mph
  • For car side to side impacts the impact speed is 40mph and for head on crashes the impact speed is 30mph.

Normally in road safety engineering we talk about treating locations where there have been concentrations of crashes historically – blackspots or hotspots or crash cluster sites. The good news is that it is quite hard to find these now, but it does mean that we need to take a different approach when developing a safe system because historical crashes aren’t great predictors of future crashes.

So what are the key challenges and opportunities we face in this area of road infrastructure and speed management?

  • There are a lot of very pressing issues that decision makers are dealing with and sometimes we find it hard to get road death and serious injury at the top of those lists. We have to make our case extremely well.

We need to present our road safety case for vision zero in the context of other priorities. For example smoother lower speeds are likely to have positive fuel consumption and emissions impacts too.

Defining a functional hierarchy and a blueprint for our road network so we all know what we are aiming for – an overarching policy like the Dutch sustainable safety survives against a backdrop of different focuses.

We don’t yet have systems thinking in our planning, prioritisation, appraisal, standards etc.

We can create standards that are survivability speed based rather than design speed based, we need to address the way we appraise schemes because it is better to be dead than stuck in traffic. Journey time typically wins against safety.

We can maximise the potential for vehicle systems to work where humans don’t – like putting in better white lines across our road network making sure that this includes the roads where you are most likely to lose control – on bendy single carriageways.

Misrepresentation of some evidence led solutions – like 20mph zones and low traffic neighbourhoods.
We need to get better at gathering and promoting evidence – some of this can be through crash investigation looking at system failures rather than attribution of blame on road users – something perhaps for the Road Safety Investigation Branch. Also following up on schemes to determine what works and what doesn’t.

Funding is limited therefore we have to prioritise, at the same time if we never scope the overall opportunity we will never ask for enough money… Here we need to measure and actively manage road safety performance and plan investments. Here we can look at what our road network would need to look like by 2040 or 2050 taking into account the contribution of vehicle technologies, and then take steps back to today using back casting techniques. Setting interim targets and metrics to track progress.

And then we have conflicting priorities. Biodiversity and environmental imperatives can frustrate our efforts to clear or protect dangerous roadside obstacles – the majority of which are mature trees. I’m not saying we should tear them all down but we do need to have a think about how we can manage this risk.

Wooden clad barriers that blend visually into the natural environment, removal of trees at higher risk locations, replacement planting strategies that work from a road safety and biodiversity point of view, speed management are all part of the solution

Nikola Floodgate, Road Safety & Active Travel Group Manager, Kent County Council

Nikola Floodgate has more than 25 years’ experience in transport planning, highway engineering and road safety.

Presentation: Adopting Vision Zero as a Local Authority

  • Two years on from adopting Vision Zero strategy in Kent, but only really just getting going.
  • War on motorists or war on pedestrians?

Promoting VZ in Kent

Vision Zero heroes 

Community Circle approach

  • Parish Seminars
  • Lunch time learning
  • Member training
  • Internal presentations
  • Engagement platforms
  • Policies and procedures


  • Created a new data platform – combining traffic and incident data together so officers do not solely base decision making on crash locations
  • Prevalence of the use of speed data in decision making. Staff regularly access Speed telematics data now as a key tool in assessing risk.

Safer Roads Partnership

  • Weekly partnership meetings introduced
  • Kent County Council
  • Kent Police
  • Kent Fire and Rescue Service
  • National Highways
  • Medway Council
  • Bi-monthly meetings to discuss possible solutions to the most serious of recent incidents have also been introduced.

Developing a set of Safety Performance Indicators and Outcome Measures in discussion with national, regional and local stakeholders

Officers have been involved in local and national discussions about suitable Safety Performance Indicators (SPIs) and collection methodologies with colleagues from other local authorities, charities, transport consultants and central government representatives.

Through this liaison, they have identified several indicators across the Safe System and have begun the collection process through a commission of a revised road user survey and a new research project in partnership with a leading transport consultancy.

The development of the SPIs is assisting our proactive understanding of collision risk on the network. The performance indicators help us to identify locations on the network that inherently do not comply with Safe System principles. Mitigation can then be applied to these parts of the network to improve their safety, without a collision having to occur to identify an unsafe location.

Nicola Foster, Chair, Safer Essex Roads Partnership, and Rebecca Morris, Road Safety Marketing and PR Specialist

As the chair of the Safer Essex Roads Partnership (SERP), Nicola is leading the charge for Vision Zero and the safe system approach in Essex.

A road safety marketing and PR specialist with almost 20 years’ experience, Rebecca is passionate about influencing public behaviour in order to reduce road deaths and injuries, and contributing to the UK’s efforts to achieve Vision Zero.

Presentation: The road to Vision Zero in Essex

The journey starts

  • In 2016 the Safer Essex Roads Partnership (SERP) Board ‘supported’ Vision Zero
  • In Jan 2020, the SERP Board agreed in principle to set a challenging casualty reduction target
  • We incorporated support for Vision Zero as a requirement under the new Partnership Memorandum of Understanding and visited each partner to achieve support and signature
  • In July 2020, a confident SERP Board signed up to an aspiration for Vision Zero by 2040.

The Safe System creates layers of protection around a human who will make mistakes in a body that can survive only a limited amount of physical force.

It accepts crashes will occur but seeks to eliminate deaths and serious injuries.

What it’s worth

  • 48 deaths a year is 960 by 2040 (cost of prevention £1,882m)
  • 800 serious injuries is 16,000 by 2040 (£3,521m)
  • Cost of DSIs in Essex to 2040 is:
    • £5,500,000,000 (5 billion, five hundred thousand)
  • ‘Budget’: £275m/year to 2040

How is everyone part of the system?

  • Everyone wants clarity – what do you want me to do?
  • Partnership lead officers for each layer of protection to deliver against strategy actions
  • Big challenges for some partners:
    • (police) increase unpredictable visibility enforcement and increase offence processing/course offers
    • (HA) risk rate roads and plan action, design out risk in new schemes/developments
    • (P/ship) focus all activity on Vision Zero (branding, messaging, calls to action)
  • How do we get public support?

Developing a comms strategy

  • Key message: “Vision Zero is everybody’s responsibility”

The Essex Vision Zero Pledge

“Pledges have a link to behaviour change.. they involve a form of ‘behavioural contract’ and ‘commitment’ to behaviour change. As such, they are an opportunity to embed theory into practice.”

“…Pledges work better when they are made socially – when we promise to others rather than just to ourselves… This gives meaning to the behaviour.”

“Social media is a simple way to share our intentions with followers, increases the audience and therefore the number of behavioural ‘observers’ and ‘monitors.’”*

The pledge supports the need for everybody to take joint responsibility for Vision Zero – from individuals, businesses and schools to the SERP partners

Where to next?

  • Ongoing direct communications with ‘pledgers’ – emails
  • Continued public engagement
  • Vision Zero Ambassadors – link in with parish councils and Neighbourhood Watch Groups
  • Further PR – Pledge sign updates, which schools and businesses have signed
  • Bereaved families and crash victims’ support

Find out more at:

Rosie Revell (Leeds City Council and Leeds Safe Roads Partnership) & Neil Hudson (West Yorkshire Combined Authority)

Rosie Revell is the Team Leader, Safe and Sustainable Travel, at Leeds City Council.

Neil Hudson took up his current post of Vision Zero Policy Manager at the West Yorkshire Combined Authority in February 2023.

Presentation: Vision Zero in Leeds

Vision Zero in Leeds

  • Leeds City Council adopted its Strategy and action plan in September 2022 in response to increase in casualties since 2021
  • The action plan focuses on the five pillars of the Safe System approach with specific targets aligned to them
  • Leeds Safe Roads Partnership has refreshed its governance with a lead for each reflecting the pillars and specific targets
  • Collective responsibility and all have a part to play and vital to spread message – Community Committee meetings, social media posts, targeting those reflected in statistics
  • Launch of Vision Zero pledge internally for Road Safety Week – leading by example

West Yorkshire focus:

  • 1,411 people were killed or seriously injured in road traffic collisions in West Yorkshire during 2022
  • 66 people were killed
  • Leeds were progressing as the largest of the authorities in West Yorkshire but it was clear needed a West Yorkshire approach

Initial progress in West Yorkshire:

  • Policy Manager and Policy Assistant – February 2023
  • Interim actions adopted – March 2023
  • Baseline Assessment – March 2023
  • New Communications Group – April 2023
  • New Data Group – April 2023

Where are we now?
Structure, Governance and Leadership

  • The West Yorkshire Vision Zero Strategy
  • Public survey
  • Consultation event

Steve James, Principal Safety Engineer, Urban Connection Ltd, New Zealand

Steve James is a Principal Safety Engineer at Urban Connection Ltd in New Zealand. He was previously with Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency.

Presentation: Safe System Assessments (SSA)

What is a Safe System Assessment?
A Safe System Assessment Framework provides a structured way to assess how closely road design and operation align with Safe System principles, and to clarify which elements of a project need to be modified to achieve closer alignment with Safe System outcomes.

It is a tool to evaluate how proposed infrastructure projects align with safe system principles with the goal of reducing fatal and serious injuries on the roading network (and off road including cycle lanes and footpaths). It works well when comparing proposed options for improvement, that can be assessed to see which one gives the best safety outcome.

A SSA does not replace the requirement for a road safety audit. A SSA and a RSA should complement each other, in order to maximise road safety outcomes on a project.

Steps of a SSA; there are 2 types, a full or rapid version.

For the full version, and similar to a RSA, you select the team (recommended minimum of 2), hold a commencement meeting and define/understand project context, inspect the site, complete the safe system matrix, consider other safe system pillars, identify treatments to improve safe system alignment (however, in NZ we do not do this step, it is usually undertaken by the designer once they get the safe system assessment report), prepare and submit the report, client accepts or rejects the suggested treatments, update SSA matrix, amend the design.

A rapid SSA is very similar and is mainly for projects of $2M or less (in Australia), and includes a shorter report. NZ undertakes both full and rapid, depending upon the complexity of the project and the client request (a rapid SSA can be undertaken by a single person, but a team is preferred).

Professor Alex Stedmon

Alex Stedmon is the current President of the Chartered Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors and was also awarded a Royal Academy of Engineering Visiting Professor role in the Psychology Department of Cardiff University.

Presentation: Safe System for Motorcyclists: the PRIME road markings project summary

  • PRIME = Perceptual Rider Information for Maximising Expertise or Enjoyment
  • motorcyclists are notoriously hard to reach
    • traditional methods do not always work
    • limited impact due to habituation effects
    • applied psychology to support better riding
  • prime positive behaviours
    • adaptable tool for riders
    • ride ‘through the gap’
    • user-centred = for motorcyclists by motorcyclists
    • 200 riders x 200 drivers x 200 online + IAM workshop
    • gateway markings
    • speed
    • position
    • braking

Summary results

opportunistic sample of motorcycles

  • 32,213 motorcycles across all sites (100%)
  • 9,919 lead motorcycles (30.8%)
  • 3,281 motorcycles with pillions (10.2%)
  • 19,568 group riders (60.8%)

similar profiles across the 3 years

  • solo motorcycles riding in groups
  • reinforcing the social aspect of motorcycling


  • significant reductions 10 sites, trends 4 sites

Lateral position at the final PRIME

  • significant changes 15 sites, trends 3 sites

Lateral position at the apex

  • significant changes 13 sites, trend 1 site

Braking behaviour

  • significant reductions 9 sites, trends 15 sites

Use of the PRIME road markings

  • significant increase 18 sites, trends 3 sites

No negative effects

  • no effects at comparison sites

PRIME project phase 2

  • motorcyclists remain a priority area
    • less than 1% of all traffic but 40x more likely to be killed on UK roads
    • the most vulnerable motorised road users on the road
  • are we there yet?
    • PRIMEs offer a low cost, high impact approach to road safety
  • further research questions
    • PRIMEs on standard roads (2023)
    • greater speed reductions (2024/5)
    • right-hand bend behaviour (2024/5)
    • installation manual for 2024 motorcycle season
    • implementing PRIMEs for casualty reduction
    • local councils and road safety partnerships

We are keen to talk to anyone who might be interested in installing PRIMEs for motorcycle casualty reduction

Professor Richard Rowe, University of Sheffield

Richard Rowe is Professor of Psychology at University of Sheffield. His research focuses on the development of risky and antisocial behaviours in young people and the construction of interventions to reduce their risk.

Presentation: Maximising the road safety potential of Intelligent Speed Assistance

The dangers of speeding:

  • Speeding increases injuries on the road (Aarts & Schagen, 2006)
  • 1 km/h speed change = 3% change in crash frequency (Finch et al., 1994)
  • US 2000-2020: 25-30% fatalities speed related (11,258 in 2020) 

Flavours of ISA:

  • Advisory: Warns driver exceeding the speed limit
  • Voluntary: ISA intervenes by cutting power until vehicle returns to speed limit. Driver has the option to override
  • Mandatory: ISA intervenes and there is no option to override

How to maximise ISA’s safety potential:

  • Vehicles fitted with ISA
    • Consumer demand
    • Legislation
  • Driving with ISA turned on
    • Voluntary choice
    • Legislation?
  • Reduce overriding ISA when turned on
    • Voluntary choice
    • System features
  • Role for safety education/campaigns
    • Change individual behaviour
    • Influence public attitudes towards demand and legislation

Approach to education:

  • Identify current beliefs in drivers with ISA
  • AND drivers without ISA
    • Help to encourage adoption
    • Initial use (e.g., when buying ISA enabled car) may be critical period
  • Test which beliefs key to predicting intention to use ISA 
    • Identifies key beliefs to modify in order to improve intentions
    • Those should be the focus of public education campaigns to promote ISA use

Study – user and non-user perspective

  • 20 drivers with intervening ISA
  • 20 drivers without intervening ISA
    • Matched on age, gender, experience
  • Approx 30 min interview

ISA and safety:

  • Most (>75%) felt lower speeds  = improved safety
    • Not all; some thought other behaviours more important for safety
  • Some safety concerns too
    • Car might slow unexpectedly
    • Override might not be quick enough
  • Potential implications for education
    • Focus on safety positives
    • Dispel concerns on negatives

ISA and driver control:

  • Many see driver choice as important
    “I only speed when it’s safe to speed, if that makes sense. And that sounds ridiculous… but I can see a long, straight country, road… I can see there’s no junctions… and there’s no farmer’s gates… I can hurtle down there.” (ISA driver)
  • See override option as important both for own driving and for public acceptability
    • System inaccuracy and hazard avoidance
  • Potential implication: Emphasise override gives control 

Positives of reduced control:

  • Most non-ISA and many ISA drivers thought role in preventing speeding fines more important than safety
    • Particularly speeding relating to inattention
  • Some drivers in both groups positive about giving some control to car
    • “one less thing to worry about” (ISA driver)
    • Can focus on other safety relevant things (e.g., hazards)
  • Potential implication: highlight these positives
  • Guided by Theory of Planned Behaviour
  • Target population: People without ISA to whom it might become available for the first time
    • 544 drivers (mean age = 46 years, range 18-81 )
  • We described ISA and asked them to imagine they had it
  • We asked about their intentions to Drive with ISA turned on
    • How likely? 7 point scale response
  • Measured beliefs identified in interview study
    • E.g, “Driving with ISA turned on would give me peace of mind”
  • Test which beliefs are best predictor of intentions
    • Identifies beliefs that should be targeted in interventions aiming to change intention

Key beliefs to strengthen: ISA positives

  • …help me to drive at the appropriate speed on different roads
  • …help me to keep within the speed limits
  • … give me peace of mind
  • … help me to avoid speeding penalties and fines
  • … make driving more relaxing (e.g. less to focus on)
  • … increase fuel efficiency
  • … reduce the risk of an accident
  • … be helpful when there are variable speed limits

Key beliefs to strengthen: ISA negatives

  • … be too restrictive
  • … reduce the amount of control I have while driving the car
  • … annoy other drivers (e.g. because I am going slower)
  • … lead to system errors (e.g. when the speed limit is not picked up correctly)
  • … lead to the car slowing down unexpectedly
  • … make me over-reliant on the system (e.g. complacent)
  • … lead to me being less focused on driving


  • ISA can be a very important component in the safe systems approach
  • Needs to be adopted and adhered to in order to realise benefits
  • Public information / education needed
  • Change individual behaviour
  • Make legislation to encourage ISA adherence more acceptable
  • Work presented here informing educational approaches

Next study in RST project evaluating intervention aiming to change the beliefs identified



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    Just a few lines in to this article was a quote from the presentation by a Dr Suzy Charman “… we recognize that some crashes are OK because they are typically not severe in outcome…”

    Really? Can “OK” really be the right phrase to describe even a minor collision? “It’s “okay everyone – it’s just a couple of damaged vehicles, some damaged street furniture and/or some private property, maybe some personal trauma and shock, a blocked road for an hour or so, police time attending, time off work through not having a roadworthy car for a few days, the hassle of insurance claims etc.etc. Hardly “OK” is it? All in all, best avoided. The causes of an “OK” collision and a severe one are pretty much the same anyway.

    Hugh Jones, Cheshire
    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

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