Road Safety Manual
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7.2 Understanding a Road Authority’s Roles and Responsibilities

Responsibilities will Reflect Applicable Legislation

Relevant legislation and regulations will prescribe the functions and responsibilities of a road authority in a country. While the nature and extent of these responsibilities varies from country to country, it will usually encompass planning and construction for major new road projects, safety, asset management, traffic management, road maintenance, and right of way and abutting development regulation, to varying degrees. The responsibility for the setting of speed limits on all roads, or perhaps just for national or state roads, while issuing guidance for speed limits and design standards on local roads is likely to rest with national or state road authorities. However, this is less likely to be the situation in a number of LMICs.

As a basic starting point, the legal obligations of a road authority for safe operation of its network will require risk management systems and procedures to be in place that:

  • acknowledge road safety as a key objective in road network management;
  • provide for adequate regular safety inspection of the road network;
  • specify steps to be taken when unsafe conditions are detected.

As an example, road authorities may have a duty of care to identify, assess and prioritise risks, and take reasonable measures to address them. This obligation typically covers all road users (including pedestrians, bicyclist, and emerging mobility devices), and covers the full road reserve (i.e. including roads and roadsides).

However, countries will have varying legislative and regulatory responsibilities setting out safety requirements that are binding upon their road authorities.

Impact of Separation of Responsibilities on Road Safety Performance

A priority safety focus for road authorities will include infrastructure safety, land use and access control from land abutting road reservations and speed limit setting, the Safe System approach requires all the elements affecting safety on the network to be taken into account by the road authority when discharging its responsibilities.

This can be complicated in situations where responsibilities are divided or separated between departments. Examples of this may include the setting of speed limits, traffic management planning and the management of heavy vehicle operation. These functions may be carried out by a different department to the road authority (e.g. Department of Transport or Police). In these instances, there is the challenge of reaching agreement with other departments about consistent practice.

It is recommended wherever possible that these responsibilities be made part of a road authority’s role. If this cannot be achieved, the road authority must be given powers to be involved (with their agreement) in establishing guidelines and standards which will be applied for these responsibilities.

All of these matters are associated with safe operation and use of the network. These operational characteristics are a key determinant of the level of crash risk experienced on the network. Considerably more active coordination effort than usual will be necessary for the agencies to achieve effective safety outcomes in these ‘separated responsibility’ situations.

Support Needed from other Authorities for Satisfactory Road User Compliance

The road authority has an obligation to support achievement of:

  • the level of road user behaviour that was assumed in the design for new road works;
  • the level of behaviour required to achieve safe operation of the existing network.

Road authorities need to work with local police and provincial and local governments to explain the importance of their roles in achieving safe operation of the road network. They need to support and encourage police action in achieving compliance with speed limits, but also for seatbelt and helmet wearing, pedestrian priority on crossings, safe overtaking, observing traffic controls at intersections, safe heavy vehicle operation and minimising impaired driving.

Facilitating Mainstream Approaches

The Road Safety Policies Team: Within a road authority exists a group of professionals with accountability for initiating road safety policy and guideline development (usually a road safety engineering team or section) and for making relevant recommendations to the senior corporate group which carries a considerable responsibility. Such a Group needs to be prepared to put forward policy positions that would reduce crash risk on the network, while recognising that this will impact upon traditional approaches.

The Road Safety Engineering Team: Other parts of the organisation (maintenance, design, asset management, traffic management) will need to be consulted and engaged in order to assist the change in thinking necessary for gaining corporate support for changing their activities. This is a substantial task – shifting the traditional approach taken to building and maintenance of roads – in order to win the understanding and acceptance of the need for retrofitting work on road networks to change crash risk profiles over time. A road safety engineering team within a road authority should be capable of operating as a centre of expertise to support the roll-out of road safety knowledge and programmes across the regions and, as appropriate, within head office functions.

Expertise will be needed to carry out a number of key functions including:

  • provision of strategic advice to the corporate management group for improvement of road safety outcomes and delivery of allocated national road safety strategy actions;
  • support for the regions, including training courses, to progressively increase understanding and application of the Safe System approach and related tools;
  • guiding revision and development of standards, guidelines and crash risk assessment tools, (including production or improvement of a road safety audit manual and blackspot programme guidelines);
  • provision of assistance and support for local government authorities, as may be specified in the legislation and as implied in national road safety action plans;
  • guiding further development of road safety policies based on experience in, and feedback from, regional offices for adoption by the corporate management group;
  • supporting the regional offices to establish and monitor access to police crash data and other safety-related data, and their use of the local data to determine higher crash risk locations and lengths, and guiding implementation of expanded safety treatment programmes;
  • supporting progressive introduction of road safety audit, making arrangements for establishing auditor accreditation procedures with an independent professional organisation, and establishing training course requirements;
  • obtaining funding and resources for training for the regional programmes;
  • regular reporting to corporate management group regarding progress with these responsibilities.

the important role of Supporting Provincial and Local Governments

Local governments will need support in introducing Safe System principles, and will also contribute input about how Safe System treatments can be more effectively implemented. The importance of the role of local government is illustrated by the example of Indonesia where recent data suggests that more than 70% of road crash fatalities occur on provincial and local roads and streets, not national highways.

In addition, local governments have land use planning responsibilities to control the nature of new development, access to road reserves, and prevention of illegal development. They also have roadside management responsibilities to control the unsafe effects of roadside activities. These powers often apply to national roads in LMICs.

It is often the role of local government, for example, to provide footpaths abutting new road developments or existing roads. There is a need to consider pedestrian safety issues as well as motorised road user and cyclist safety. Policies need to be devised and adopted for safe movement of pedestrians along and across roads and for potential treatments at higher-risk locations. Funding arrangements need to be resolved to ensure pedestrian facilities are in place or provided.

Simple tools to support improvement of knowledge and capacity at the provincial and local levels will be needed, as will adequate funding, although funding arrangements are usually complex and specific to each jurisdiction.

Achieving Adequate Funding

Safe System introduction is likely, over time, to lead to fundamental change in an authority’s approach and programmes. Cost-effective safety interventions and investment will become a more substantial component within new projects and maintenance and reconstruction works, and will also support improved worksite safety management. For all LMICs, understanding and identification of higher crash risk issues (e.g. through application of proactive network risk assessment programmes and blackspot analysis) will increase demand for implementation of treatments. Allocations for road safety funding within annual budgets in order to respond to these demands will increasingly emerge. Without funding commitment by government (supported by innovative safety programme business case submissions from the road authority), nothing will change.

Increased funding for safety projects will require linkage to new safety-related corporate KPIs whose measurement will enable management of effectiveness to occur. Box 7.1 illustrates an approach to introducing funding of Safe System treatments.

Box 7.1: Earmarked and mainstream funding for Safe System road safety engineering – Sweden

Road safety in Sweden is mostly funded by government and through general revenue distributed to the lead agency – now the Swedish Transport Administration (STA) – and other sectors. In 1999, funding to the lead agency was doubled with a total of SEK 8.5 billion ($US 1.25 billion) to be made available for road safety over 10 years. An increased and earmarked allocation was made to allow resources for physical road safety measures such as roads with median guardrails, safer intersections and safer road shoulders. Road safety engineering is being increasingly brought into the mainstream of infrastructure development and asset management.


Obtaining Safety Funding from other Administrations - Opportunities for obtaining targeted funding for road safety investment (e.g. infrastructure safety works, additional enforcement, public campaigns, and conferences and seminars) need to be pursued by all agencies, especially health and road authorities given the relatively high cost of infrastructure provision and implications of crash outcomes on the health system.

How to Obtain Safety Dedicated Funding - Obtaining adequate safety funding is a leading responsibility for a road authority. Revenue sources such as from the introduction of more efficient enforcement mechanisms (automated enforcement) for the collection of traffic fines and injury insurer contributions on the basis of achieving a satisfactory rate of economic return on investment through lower claims experience, warrant particular attention. In some countries such as Australia, Canada and Sweden, the injury insurers fund major advertising, research and enforcement programmes and revenue from traffic infringements (Australia and France) funds major infrastructure programmes.

Reference sources

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