Road Safety Manual
A manual for practitioners and decision makers
on implementing safe system infrastructure

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4.2 Safety and the Current Transport System

The Safe System approach is a comprehensive safety philosophy, developed and internationally agreed-upon to form the foundation for safe design and operation of the road transport system. The deficiencies in traditional approaches to achieving a safe road network were highlighted by Tingvall (2005). He noted that the road transport system internationally has traditionally been characterised as follows:

  • An open system with a large number of stakeholders loosely connected to each other.
  • Societies not having a clear and shared idea of how the system should develop in safety terms, with individual countermeasures implemented on an ad hoc basis in isolation from each other.
  • Components not operating in alignment, with large parts of the system not tolerating speeds higher than 50 or 60 km/h, road users allowed to drive at 100 km/h, and modern vehicles having the capacity to travel readily at 200 km/h. This substantial mismatch is a key factor explaining current inadequate safety levels.
  • Lack of acceptance of responsibility by stakeholders. While individual users have a clear legal responsibility, other important providers/operators of the system often do not.
  • The legal and moral blame in crashes is placed most often on the road user.
  • Measures to prevent crashes and injuries have had the individual user as the main target. To do so with a high-energy system where large gaps exist between human capability and the requirements necessary to travel safely within the system, is an indicator of a lack of acceptance of responsibility from the providers of the system.
  • There has not been adequate guidance developed for the system providers and operators in order for them to do what is necessary.
  • There has not been an agreed definition of what a safe road transport system is, only what is safer.

These comments draw attention to the fact that there has been a lack of acceptance of responsibility in this field by most governments. The safest communities (OECD, 2008) will be those that embrace the shift towards a Safe System and begin work now on the interventions required to close the gap between current performance and the performance associated with a genuinely safe road traffic system.

This requires understanding not only of the current system’s safety weaknesses, but also of what change may be possible in the short-term to achieve Safe System compliant outputs. Sufficient management leadership within government road safety agencies (including road authorities), as outlined in Chapter Safety Management System, is essential to achieve meaningful progress in the delivery of these substantially different outputs.

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