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7.4 Embedding the Safe System in the Goals and Operational Practice of Road Authorities

It is a challenging and potentially lengthy process for a road authority to move from adopting Safe System principles to implementing these within a road authority’s operations. Progress will be measured in years rather than months. Moving to embed a Safe System approach is likely to involve the following:

  • development of a clear strategic objective or statement of purpose or intent;
  • improving Safe System learning and understanding by individuals in the organization;
  • corporate processes to define policies and management systems;
  • production of a road safety strategy for the road authority plus associated policies and guidelines to direct required actions;
  • network safety management practices to guide the planning, design, operation and maintenance of the network;
  • agreed performance objectives for both the authority and the community and ongoing assessment of safety outcomes;
  • feedback on performance;
  • informing the community that this embedding of the Safe System is taking place and what that means for safe travel.

A summary of some key issues and potential actions or processes associated with moving to embed the Safe System within a road authority’s management systems is set out in Table 7.2.

Table 7.2: Issues and potential actions/processes to support embedding the Safe System approach
IssuePotential actions/processes

How can a road authority commence the process of embedding the Safe System approach in its operational practice?

Role statements and accountabilities at all levels in the road authority should reflect the actions and outputs expected to deliver Safe System progress

How to commence/continue the transition from traditional approaches to the Safe System philosophy

Ensure that there is a high degree of understanding of the benefits associated with the proactive risk minimisation approach. The Safe System principles and scientific design foundations should be clearly and consistently communicated to agency staff and stakeholders. The economic and safety benefits of adopting this approach should be demonstrated through case studies and communicated widely within the organisation

How to implement Safe System principles in horizontal and vertical corporate communication and decision-making processes

Corporate processes need to have Safe Systems outcomes embedded in them to strengthen development of a continuously learning organisation

Continuous policy development should also be informed from operational development and implementation experience. Feedback from these activities is an essential means of improving policies and guidelines to embrace and deliver Safe System outcomes

Formalised arrangements for the new ways of managing safety on the network

Apply these policies and develop supporting systems to incorporate proactive network safety management within the planning, project development, design, operation and maintenance activities of the authority.

Establish ongoing performance measurement of safety outcomes to assure the community that the level of the authority’s safety performance is improving

Addressing community/stakeholder awareness and acceptance of implications of adopting Safe Systems principles

Develop a communication strategy with agreed key messages and mediums for dialogue with identified stakeholders.

At the outset, any existing national road safety strategy will need to be reviewed and if necessary adjustments to the strategy made to include the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety’s Safe System basis. It is expected that many LMICs will need to review the adequacy of their processes (see Establishing Corporate Processes to Develop Policy in Embedding the Safe System in the Goals and Operational Practice of Road Authorities for guidance on this).

The leadership will also need to recognise the changed organisational responsibilities that will flow from these decisions and consider how to go about providing for these changes. The needs and the environment in which the road authority in any country is operating will influence the detail of this.

Progress will depend heavily on leadership provided by the chief executive. These are quite challenging change management tasks, winning the support and commitment of senior management within the organisation is a key first step and priority.

Training programmes, such as those outlined in Learning and Knowledge Development in Embedding the Safe System in the Goals and Operational Practice of Road Authorities will be important on an ongoing basis as improved corporate policies and network management systems are adopted by the organisation. For any road authority moving to embed Safe System practice, senior and middle management need sufficient time to learn about and understand the underlying concepts.

The internal communication processes in place to support change management also need to be reviewed if meaningful change is to be introduced over time. This would include effective communication across all levels of government and between head and regional offices.

The experience of the Swedish Road Administration in introducing Safe System (Vision Zero) thinking and moving to implement associated and substantially different infrastructure safety programmes across the organisation is instructive (see Box 7.6)

Box 7.6: Challenge of implementing change: Swedish Road Authority, Sweden

From 2000 to 2009, Sweden moved to increase the 2 + 1 barrier divided road network on the more heavily trafficked sections of the national highway network. The length of this treatment increased from 180 km in 2000 to some 2120 km in 2009. This was to address the high incidence of head-on crashes experienced on the network, due in part to the existing 13 metre wide pavements (two through lanes with wide shoulders), which encouraged a form of four-lane driver behaviour, leading to increased head-on crash risk. Sweden also began to install side barriers to address run-off-road serious crash risk and to expand programmes to install roundabouts to address serious crash risks at intersections.

The decision made at head office for barrier expansion, in particular from 2000, took some time to achieve general compliance and support by all regional managers. In fact, performance targets for regional managers (for 2 + 1 lanes with wire rope median barriers) were required in order to drive compliance with corporate policy. Some regional managers considered the policy directives for central medians and 2 + 1 lane construction to not be in accordance with traditional approaches.

Road fatalities fell from 550 to some 350 annually in that 10-year period as the roll-out proceeded, and became an acknowledged world leading set of initiatives (part of the Vision Zero implementation).


© ARRB Group

Setting a New Strategic Objective

Box 7.7 outlines an example of a road authority, which sets out the basis for its transformation to an authority that will fully integrate Safe System thinking into its activities and the associated strategic objective it has adopted. Main Roads Western Australia (MRWA) is an informed user of the Safe System, with an understanding of, and experience with, its application. The process MRWA has adopted to guide its use of Safe System principles within its operations is comprehensive and informative for other road authorities that are in a similar advanced stage of awareness of the Safe System.

Box 7.7: Main Roads, Western Australia (MRWA) strategic objective

The vision:

To eliminate death and serious injury crashes on the Western Australian road network and leave a lasting legacy of a safe road system for our children, grandchildren and the community.

Strategic objective:

The MRWA road safety strategy The Road Towards Zero is aimed at bringing about changes to our road safety institutional arrangements, practices and culture as we strive to eliminate death and serious injury. In doing so it will:

  • deliver a safe world-class road system
  • embed the Safe System approach into the organisation and road sector
  • provide assurance to government and community that we are achieving results.

The Road Towards Zero’s strategic objective reflects this focus on cultural change: To change thinking, practice and behaviour – to let staff imagine all things possible – to build, maintain and operate an inherently safe road system.


As indicated earlier, relevant legislation under which the road authority operates will influence the way that the authority proceeds to implement a Safe System approach.

Learning and Knowledge Development

Building awareness of Safe System possibilities and application will be achieved through leadership, training and knowledge development as discussed in detail in The Safe System Approach. Resourcing this awareness building is a critical step for LMICs.

Training and development approaches

Effective training and change management activities will be crucial enablers to achieving Safe System progress. New Zealand, which has a well-advanced Safe System approach has implemented sector-wide training programmes through the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) (Climo et al., 2014) as presented in Box 7.8

Box 7.8: NZTA training programmes

Safer Journeys (the NZ strategy) acknowledged the need to embed the Safe System into New Zealand’s road safety culture and to develop the capability to do so. Within four years of adopting a Safe System approach the NZTA has moved to incorporate Safe System processes within its operations.

A structured ‘culture change’ programme was embarked upon, which provided detail about what it meant in practice and what it needed to do differently. Supporting resources were developed as follows:

  • a suite of Safe System pamphlets for road users, system designers, coroners, engineers and planners;
  • a series of new Safe System guides for targeting high-risk rural roads, intersections and motorcycle routes;
  • a Safe System case study video;
  • a two-day Safe System in practice workshops aimed at training 500 people in groups of about 50 over an 18 month period.

A range of existing policy, procedure and guideline documents, likely to have the greatest influence, were identified and a programme of updating these embarked upon.

The second Safer Journeys Action Plan (2013-15) has continued this focus with specific ‘Advance the Safe System’ tasks that include:

  • undertaking signature projects where a Safe System approach will be taken to address corridor or community road safety issues;
  • establishing a Safe System partnership programme that requires new partnerships to be formed across local government, the private sector, advocacy groups and communities;
  • reframing the road safety conversation to raise the awareness of what really contributes to road safety.

Source: Climo et al. (2014).


NZTA’s experience has demonstrated that culture change is not a short-term or easy task. It requires leadership from the highest level such as politicians and chief executives and perseverance, with continual repetition of simple key messages. It has also been recognised that changing the conversation in the media, away from the ‘driver blame’ culture, will be critical to success.

Effective staff development will require programmes such as New Zealand’s (above) and other more ‘entry-level’ programmes to be identified and then utilised for relevant professional development of staff, particularly within LMIC authorities. Activities such as short-term (two to four week duration) staff exchanges with other national road authorities, and seminars by local and international experts to inform and obtain input about road safety policy-related matters, should also be pursued.

A continuous change and improvement culture should be fostered, with an extended training programme for head office staff and the regions being introduced at the appropriate time. These are pivotal steps in helping to underpin safety knowledge and fostering improvement in safety performance by a road authority.

Initiatives to support Safe System application

Initiatives to assist focused application of Safe System principles within road authority programmes and projects include:

  • improved access to data and familiarity with key analysis tools (this requires a reliable crash data system; see Effective Management And Use Of Safety Data);
  • building organisational knowledge;
  • understanding that the existing network is not safe, some locations are less safe than others, and why that is so, including use of tools such as risk assessment (see Assessing Potential Risks And Identifying Issues);
  • understanding crash risk and applying the Safe System approach to reducing fatal and serious injury crash outcomes by crash type.
  • establishing and maintaining processes for discussion and decision making (about crash risk and the Safe System) across the organisation for policy and programme development;
  • working to improve safety performance by implementing formalised road safety management systems or by building upon existing processes used to assess safety;
  • continued research into potential infrastructure safety treatment options;
  • evaluation of programme effectiveness.

Crash risk analysis and treatment: development of understanding and application

Many professionals within road authorities learn about crash analysis, development of treatment options, selection of the most cost-effective option (with a focus on reducing fatal and serious injury crashes, as distinct from all crashes), and implementation, through high-risk location (blackspot) projects and programmes. On the contrary, it would be preferable for a road authority to move as soon as possible to a network-wide assessment and treatment of crash risk, high-risk location treatment projects – which are based on solid evidence of crash types and robust estimations of project costs and crash reduction benefits, followed by later evaluation – are a key learning tool for professional road safety engineers that are starting out in road infrastructure safety. Such projects, as long as they are pursued with a clear Safe System focus and basic initial understanding, are important steps for individuals along the path to broader understanding of crash risk and tools.

Examples of demonstration projects in a number of countries by all the road safety agencies, including the road authority, to improve crash risk analysis and treatment knowledge are provided in Road Safety Targets, Investment Strategies Plans and Projects.

Establishing Corporate Processes to Develop Policy

Change is always challenging and the scale of reassessment or reframing of policies and guidelines involved with fully embracing the Safe System is substantial. These are large steps for any road authority, but it is a substantial challenge when a typical LMIC authority embarks on this journey. Moving from understanding by individuals to adoption of a corporate consensus and then agreeing on the new road safety vision and how it is to be applied is a challenging process for any road authority. Processes of this type will be less developed in most LMIC road authorities but dialogue and discussion need to be encouraged as soon as possible by their leaders. It is likely to take time and leadership to implement a significant change to established corporate policy-making processes.

Working group programme

To support the substantial policy development task of establishing road safety priorities, road authorities in LMICs could usefully establish working groups to examine issues and develop detailed and implementable policy recommendations for senior management. Each group would have:

  • a designated lead officer;
  • clear terms of reference;
  • access to legal and other expertise;
  • consultation with other agencies, as necessary;
  • a monitored timeframe for reporting final recommendations to senior management.

These working groups would report to senior management, which could be convened as a senior road safety planning group on a regular basis. Priority policy issues could include:

  • a speed management policy;
  • vulnerable user safety policy – provision of facilities to improve the safety of major at-risk road user groups (e.g. pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcyclists etc.) in their movement along and across national and provincial/state roads;
  • revision of road maintenance activities/practices to improve safety;
  • provision of Safe System training, including to local government;
  • conducting network safety assessment by identifying the extent to which sections of road meet Safe System principles and key gaps for attention;
  • building organisational road safety principles, technical standards and guidelines over time.

Project Review Committee (PRC) approach

An authority with more developed corporate decision making processes could follow a Project Review Committee approach to develop and progress an expanded crash risk reduction programme. The committee would be made up of the senior engineering executives of the organisation and would review presentations by project staff on larger proposed projects on a regular (possibly weekly) basis. Project proponents would be queried on higher-level key issues, (estimated cost, asset management, delivery, environmental and land acquisition, mobility and access, traffic management and road safety).

Safety discussions would centre on measures proposed to improve safety within new projects or the existing safety issues on an existing road which is to be upgraded and measures to be taken to address these. Corporate road safety policies, guidelines and standards would be reviewed and adjusted, or introduced, as a result of these discussions and associated further reviews.

As indicated in Learning and Knowledge Developments in Embedding the Safe System in the Goals and Operational Practice of Road Authorities, the previous exposure to blackspot programmes is relevant, as these activities sensitise a road authority not only to opportunities for improving levels of safety on the network but also to the disadvantages of only treating high-risk locations, leaving lower-risk lengths untreated and less likely to be treated.

The Project Review Committee approach recognises that embedding the Safe System requires an organisation-wide dialogue at the senior management level about network operating responsibilities, as well as a similar dialogue at project or programme-specific levels (e.g. where bicycle paths along existing arterial roads should be located on the cross-section of an upgrade or new road project).

Producing Policies and Guidelines

The production of quality policies, guidelines and standards follows as a next step. These will be developed over time and will be quite varied in nature, reflecting the stage of safety development of a road authority and its immediate safety priorities. Further advice on the role of policies, standards and tools and their development is provided in Chapter 9, Infrastructure Safety Management: Policies, Standards, Guidelines and Tools along with examples.

  • Priority areas for policy development and associated training would be:
  • Safe System guidance; road design (embedding these Safe System concepts)
  • traffic management which supports safe network operation
  • safe work-site management
  • blackspot criteria and road audits to identify high risk locations, analysis, evaluation and treatment (to be followed by network risk analysis when tools are able to be utilised and projects can be funded).

An Example: Some road-safety-related policy gaps that were identified as needing to be addressed by the Indonesian Directorate General of Highways (DGH) in a review in 2013 of the overall strategic plan are summarised below. They are down to earth, practical policy initiatives, including:

  • reference the National Road Safety Master Plan in the overall DGH Strategic Plan;
  • reference the Safe System approach within the overall Strategic Plan;
  • develop safety-related indicators in organisational key performance indicators (KPIs) (‘what is not measured is not managed’);
  • introduce a funding category for specific safety investments (blackspots) to support identification of comparative funding effort;
  • revise road-safety-related design standards;
  • provide supplementary project funding to meet additional items identified as necessary in late-stage road safety audits.

For road authorities in LMICs, priority safety issues for policy attention and implementation will often differ from priorities for HIC authorities. For LMICs, policy priorities will usually include:

  • providing pedestrian and motorcycle facilities which improve safety outcomes;
  • addressing incompatible speeds between road users in areas of high risk;
  • installing traffic management and infrastructure safety measures to reduce crash risk ;
  • controlling vehicle access to/from roadsides;
  • controlling land use developments abutting arterial roads to reduce adverse safety impacts;
  • improving safety of operation of heavy vehicles;
  • improving compliance with road rules.

As an example, the City of Abu Dhabi has worked to develop urban design guidelines for application across the urban streets of the city to improve sustainable safety and amenity for pedestrians, public transit users and cyclists and give these road users priority through these treatments. This outlined in the case study below.

CASE STUDY - Abu Dahbi: Urban street design manual

The Emirate of Abu Dhabi has a diverse population with unique driver behaviours and varying levels of driving education and cultural differences. The Abu Dhabi Urban Planning a growing population and desired to improve pedestrian facilities to create a safe street with more walkable environments in an effort to transition to a multi-modal society.

The solution: The UPC commissioned the Abu Dhabi Urban Street Design Manual to address these needs. The Manual is now part of the UPC’s development regulations and required to be used in conjunction with other adopted standards and guidelines. Read More (PDF, 139 kb).

Applying the Safe System within Network management Practice

The steps outlined in Setting a New Strategic Objective to Producing Policies and Guidelines from Embedding the Safe System in the Goals and Operational Practice of Road Authorities will provide the guidance required for embedding the Safe System within management and operation of the network. However, there is another step required of road authorities. They need to progressively apply the policies they are developing and to build supportive management systems to ensure their network management activities incorporate all the guidance they have prepared.

A road authority will need to take steps to incorporate safety management systems within its network planning and operations. This can be pursued through measures such as:

  • review of programmes and priorities when annual programme guidelines are prepared and when annual business planning is taking place;
  • periodic review of progressive implementation of safety policies and guidelines.

Some formalisation of this approach is recommended in time and ISO 39001 provides guidance on how to structure this (see Interventions in Management System Frameworks and Tools).

Managing Performance

A road authority will need to progressively assure itself and the community that it is making progress with improving its network safety management and operation. This assurance can be sought through:

  • periodic evaluation of programmes to determine their safety benefits;
  • use of safety performance indicators – a limited set initially, developing to a more sophisticated system later – to measure specific areas of progress;
  • feeding results of evaluation and measurement (positive and negative) into programme guideline review and annual business planning activity;
  • trends in fatal crashes on the network over a number of years.

For most LMICs, the identification and adoption of specific safety KPIs will be a useful way to measure performance and build accountability over time.

Safety KPIs and budget allocations

All road safety strategies should have specific KPIs. The introduction of KPIs allows authorities to specify the level of improved road safety achievement sought and/or to encourage active development and achievement of road safety improvement programmes.

One consequence of a lack of high-level road safety KPIs can be the absence of an identifiable separate budget allocation for specific road safety programmes. Funding allocation categories within LMIC road authorities typically include routine maintenance, periodic maintenance, rehabilitation and reconstruction. One of the benefits of a separate allocation for specific safety programmes is the ability to measure overall expenditure on targeted safety works and to determine economic return on investment.

Good network safety performance needs to be considered a major organisational output for a road authority. Over time, safety-related corporate-level KPIs are likely to move from initial introduction in many LMICs to ‘centre stage’ importance in the authority’s overall performance assessment.

A range of more detailed performance indicators will need to be developed to enable progress with implementation of infrastructure safety treatments. Once KPIs are agreed it is necessary to establish how they will be measured and reported, and determine the frequency at which this will take place (see performance indicators discussion in The Road Safety Management System, Effective Management And Use Of Safety Data and Road Safety Targets, Investment Strategies Plans and Projects). Example KPIs from the Global Plan are provided in Box 7.9.

Box 7.9: Global Performance Indicators for Safer Roads and Mobility

The Global Plan for the Decade of Action (see The UN Decade of action and global plan) includes performance indicators for the safer roads and mobility pillar. Although these are targeted at the monitoring of activity at global level, they serve as useful examples for use by individual countries. The indicators are categorised as ‘Core’ and ‘Optional’.

Core indicators

  • number of countries where road authorities have statutory responsibility to improve road safety on their networks;
  • number of countries with a defined allocation of expenditure for dedicated road infrastructure safety programmes;
  • number of countries with a target to eliminate high-risk roads by 2020;
  • number of countries that have adopted sustainable urban mobility policies;
  • number of countries with specialist infrastructure road safety units monitoring safety aspects of the road network;
  • number of countries with systematic safety audit, safety impact and/or road assessment policies and practices in place.

Optional indicators

  • number of countries with the integration of safety needs as part of land-use and transport planning functions;
  • number of countries with effective property access control and development control procedures;
  • number of countries with regular, ongoing conduct of network safety rating surveys;
  • number of countries where the safety ratings for the highest volume 10% of roads is above a defined threshold (e.g. crash rates per kilometre; minimum infrastructure safety ratings; percentage of high-speed roads with safe roadsides and median separation; safe pedestrian provision);
  • number of countries with minimum safety rating standards for new road projects;
  • number of countries reporting vehicle miles travelled.

Source: UNRSC, 2011

Reference sources

No reference sources found.