Opinion – Safe System approach

12.00 | 12 July 2016 | | 5 comments

Jessica Truong, programmes director at the Towards Zero Foundation, makes the case for adopting the Safe System approach.

Every year, more than 1.2m people die on the road around the world, with millions more seriously injured and urgent action is required to reverse this trend.

Road safety is an issue that should concern everyone and the campaign below developed by the Transport Accident Commission (TAC) in Victoria, Australia is a powerful reminder of why we need to do more to reduce road trauma – because there is no one someone won’t miss.

There is certainly more that can be done to reduce road related deaths and serious injuries. Many countries such as Sweden, The Netherlands and Australia have embraced the Safe System approach to road safety to help reduce road trauma on their roads.

At the heart of the Safe System (also known as Vision Zero, Sustainable Safety and Towards Zero) is the belief that no one should be killed or serious injured as a result of using the road. Human life and health should be paramount and the first and foremost consideration when designing the road network. 

The Safe System is underpinned by the following key principles:

• As humans, we will all inevitably make mistakes
• As humans, we are vulnerable – our unprotected bodies can only withstand forces equivalent to an impact speed of 30km/h before the risk of death significantly increases
• We need to build a forgiving road system that can absorb our mistakes and limit the transfer of forces that can result in serious injuries or death
• Road safety is a shared responsibility between everyone in the community

Understanding these principles, it is therefore important to build a safe road system that can accommodate people’s mistakes and vulnerability and this will involve significant developments in:

• Safe roads
• Safe vehicles
• Safe speeds
• Safe people

Zero is the only acceptable number when it comes to deaths and serious injuries on our roads. With the Safe System approach to road safety, zero doesn’t have to be just a vision, it can become reality.

Jessica Truong
Jessica Truong joined the Towards Zero Foundation in February 2016 as the programmes director where she oversees programs and advocates for policy changes that can enhance road safety globally. Prior to joining the Towards Zero Foundation, Jessica worked for the Transport Accident Commission in Australia, managing road safety programmes and public education campaigns on a range of road safety issues. Jessica holds qualifications in psychology and science and is currently completing a PhD in road safety.


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    Although it’s true to say “as humans we all inevitably make mistakes”, there’s a difference between a rare mistake made by an otherwise careful motorist, which is probably what the phrase is referring to and then there’s the hooligan on wheels (for want of a better expression) i.e. the persistent tailgaters and speeders, the impatient, the reckless etc. for whom every journey, every junction and every interaction with other road users is a potential danger for them and others and whose behaviour could not be excused by “we all make mistakes”, apart from the possible mistake in the system which a) allowed him/her to drive in the first place and b) which continues to allow such behaviour to continue. More enforcement please! (rant over)

    Hugh Jones
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    Hugh (once again) is spot on. When doing training sessions I showed a picture of a Model T Ford (circa 1908-1927) saying that was by far the safest vehicle on the road/s in spite of all the so called safety features applied to modern vehicles. Puzzled audience, (including some ADI’s). Pause for effect, and then say, ‘because there is no person in it’. Point made. You can have all the safety features you like but most of them deal with (or try to deal with) the incompetence of the driver in the first place. Air bags, for example, should be called ‘damage limitation devices’. That would put them into a better perspective.

    Nigel ALBRIGHT
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    Such a system might be possible, but it wouldn’t look or function like any transportation system with which we might currently be familiar.

    The road transport system as it currently exists is fundamentally unsafe, but it is not the individual parts of the system that make it unsafe it is the interactions between those parts that does. The safe systems approach tries to fix the parts (not the problem) whilst the interactions between the parts (the problem) are, in my opinion, being completely ignored.

    Duncan MacKillop. No surprise – No accident.
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    Amazing what unbridled optimism can do for you, but by all means, go for it. Progress can be made but zero road fatalities for the UK will be an aspiration that is not achievable.

    Pat, Wales
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    I think we’re okay with the safe roads and the safe vehicles, but safe people..? ..there’s a long way to go yet.. if we could establish who wasn’t going to be safe on the road, we could not let them have driving licenses in the first place. As a goal for the authorities, zero KSIs is impossible, but individually, it is possible.

    Hugh Jones,Cheshire
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