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6.4 Assessment of a Country’s Road Safety Problems

Identifying Specific needs and Opportunities in the Management System

Issues will exist in all countries across their management system, in the results achieved to date, the scope and quality of the interventions applied, and in institutional management capacity. Results will reflect the interventions introduced and the effectiveness of that set of interventions, as determined by the extent of critical supporting systems in place. This will include the commitment to funding; the extent of relevant legislation; and the level of deterrence in place, including enforcement and justice system support.

Adequacy of road safety management arrangements in linking agency heads with ministers is essential to achieving good performance, as outlined in The Road Safety Management System and Box 6.3 indicates the importance of strong linkage between the bureaucracy and elected members and Ministers in a country.

Box 6.3: Good practice coordination and decision making arrangements for road safety

A coordination framework that links road safety senior managers through executive management, across relevant sectors, to a group of ministers meeting regularly – which makes operational decisions at lower levels and formulates policy recommendations for, and reports on strategy performance to ministers – reflects the necessary systematic view of road transport operation and its professional and political challenges. Provision for public inquiry at parliamentary level and broad consultation arrangements with stakeholders, including special interest groups, are recommended. Model Jurisdictions: Victoria, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Western Australia, Sweden, The Netherlands.

Source: PIARC (2012).


Further key questions that need to be considered are:

  • Is there supportive research and development available, working with the agencies to support problem definition, targeting of issues, and evaluation of outcomes through evidence-based intervention design?
  • Can the country answer questions such as: ‘what are the major serious crash types?’, ‘what are the major serious crash risks by type and location?’, ‘what are the highest serious casualty crash road lengths?’, and ‘what can be done to more accurately quantify these?’ before considering potential solutions and the likely barriers to implementing these solutions?
  • How is road safety management influenced by the political model and the legal system within the country, as well as historical and cultural practices?
  • Are the coordination, leadership and decision-making arrangements across government agencies adequate to achieve agreed problem definition, to develop a range of potential interventions, to gain political support for these actions in a prioritised way (see Box 6.3 above) and to implement them successfully?
  • Are measures in place to build provincial and local government capacity to improve road safety outcomes?
  • How can knowledge and institutional management capacity be strengthened over time through ‘learning by doing’?

Understanding Existing Network-level Crash Risks

Capacity to identify network-level crash risks is critically important. Countries face a variety of road safety challenges on their networks. HICs have high light passenger vehicle motorisation rates, while LMICs usually experience high two-wheeler motorisation rates, high roadside pedestrian volumes, and high proportions of heavy vehicles (trucks and buses) in the vehicle fleet.

Issues influencing comparative crash risks on networks in different countries include:

  • the levels of safe infrastructure provision;
  • the safety levels of the vehicle fleet;
  • the mix of vehicle types using the network;
  • the levels of road user compliance with the laws and road rules (respect for the rule of law);
  • the controls on drivers and vehicles entering and remaining on the network;
  • the emergency medical management of crash victims.

As an infrastructure safety example, there will be different proportions of total traffic volumes operating on high quality motorways in different countries. These roads have lesser crash risks (per unit of travel) than single-carriageway roads. This is an example of the very different problems that countries can face and which they need to better understand in order to prepare plans to address the problems.

Understanding the relationships between road safety performance and road safety conditions (e.g. abutting land use and roadside access control; road and roadside safety features; vehicle type, mix and safety standards; travel speeds; driver and rider compliance with road laws; quality of road laws; novice driver licensing requirements; and emergency medical management in a country) is a critical requirement for assessing underlying crash risk on the road network and in taking action to reduce the risks.

Two landmark European studies — The SUNflower (Sweden, UK and Netherlands) and the SUNflower +6 (the original three countries, plus Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia, Greece, Portugal, and Spain) studies, assessed many of these conditions and provided useful insights into this road safety performance/underlying conditions relationship in different countries (see Box 6.4 for the SUNflower three countries findings and Box 6.5 for the SUNflower +6 countries findings. Note that these comments refer to conditions in the years before 2005).

Box 6.4: Some findings of the SUNflower three counties study illustrating differences in underlying conditions and risk between countries

  • British risks are highest for pedestrians and for motorcyclists, but lowest for car occupants, compared to the other countries. Factors that may explain these risk differences include the higher traffic density on British roads, the greater use of roundabouts at junctions, and the lower average speed on main inter-urban roads.
  • Car occupant risk is highest in Sweden. Factors that may explain this are the higher Swedish average speed on main roads despite lower speed limits, lower traffic density, and lower speed limit enforcement level.
  • For the three countries, the risk on motorways is almost five times lower than on other roads; this risk differs slightly in the three countries (2.0 per billion vehicle kilometres in Britain versus 2.3 in the Netherlands and 2.5 in Sweden).
  • The risk on Dutch roads other than motorways is about one-third higher than the risk on these roads in the other countries. Factors that might explain this include: higher exposure and risk to moped riders, higher cyclist exposure, lower seatbelt use, and higher junction density.
  • Britain needs to find an infrastructure solution that will enable pedestrian and vehicular traffic to co-exist at lower fatality levels; for example, by extending the length of urban roads with 20 mph (30 km/h) speed limits.

It is noted that many of the report recommendations, including those above, have since been implemented in the three countries, with positive results achieved.

Source: Koornstra et al., 2002)


Box 6.5: Summary of findings on safety conditions and performance from the SUNflower +6 study (2005)

This box illustrates the differences in underlying conditions and risk between (A) three Central European countries (Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovenia) and the original SUN study countries of Sweden, UK and Netherlands and between (B) three southern European countries (Greece, Spain and Portugal) and the original SUN study countries.

(a) Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovenia

Development of road safety in these countries varied considerably. Results reflected differences in national road safety management and enforcement strategies.

Improvement in Slovenia over the decades to 2003 was likely to have been a consequence of a) early introduction of several road traffic regulations, b) their effective enforcement, c) extensive construction of new motorways and expressways, d) the considerable upgrading of the vehicle fleet, and e) the introduction of several traffic calming measures and general improvement of infrastructure safety standards of roads.

Slovenia benefited from more flexible and effective road safety policy at national and regional level, with defined targets distributed among stakeholders.

For all three countries, safety performance benefited from: extension of the motorway network in the 1990s shifting traffic onto a relatively safer road type, and wide implementation of low-cost safety measures in municipalities (roundabouts and other traffic calming elements) where implementation has solely been based on local decisions.

Progress of the three countries compared with targets set, was rather slow. ‘Moreover, improvements in road safety organization, management and cooperation among all stakeholders, together with provision of sufficient resources, seem to be crucial for further development’.

(b) Greece, Spain and Portugal

All three countries published a plan covering a period of three or more years (including the year 2005) that set quantified targets for a reduction in the number of road fatalities, a relatively new aspect of road safety in the Southern countries studied. The targeted reductions for Portugal were ambitious, proposing a halving of road deaths by 2010, whilst those for Spain were in line with the European overall projection (EU White paper) and those for Greece were more modest.

The organization of safety activities at a central level shows a lead ministry engaged in both the development of policies across the territory as well as the coordination of activities across various ministries. In Spain, some of the regions have assumed the lead for organizing some road safety matters.

For these countries, vertical coordination of safety activities from central and regional to the local level is not well-developed.

(c) Summary for All SUNflower +6 countries

For some countries the changes identified were related to important political changes (e.g. Portugal, Hungary, and the Czech Republic). The same picture can be seen in these countries as for the SUN countries: an increase in motorised traffic resulting in a growing number of casualties. These growing numbers led to increased attention on road safety, leading to new road safety policies and organizational measures and safety measures in the SUNflower+6 countries without exception.

Source: SWOV, 2005.


An understanding of the scale of existing problems in a country requires availability of relevant data. More accurate and extensive data will likely lead to more accurate assessment of problems and development of solutions to address these problems. The value of extensive and accurate data being available has been demonstrated in Effective Management and Use of Safety Data.

OECD (2002) emphasised the benefits of road safety visions, targets and plans, which are underpinned by comprehensive crash and other data. It argued that without an evidence-based planning approach with clearly stated objectives it is unlikely that an effective strategy can be developed or implemented. As indicated in Effective Management and Use of Safety Data., lack of data makes it difficult to highlight road safety as a priority for action at the strategic level or to have a consistent evidence-based approach to problem identification and specific countermeasure development and implementation.

Development of reliable national and local systems for collection of reliable crash statistics as outlined in Effective Management and Use of Safety Data.has to be a leading priority. While good data systems are essential to measure crash occurrence and identify key risk factors, OECD (2008) stressed the need to also measure intermediate outcomes (such as mean free speeds, speeding offence levels, alcohol impaired driving rates, seatbelt wearing rates, network route safety level ratings, vehicle fleet safety ratings) and changes in these measures over time (see Performance Indicators). Other major influences on road safety outcomes (e.g. travel growth, alcohol consumption trends, heavy vehicle, motorcycle and moped growth) also need to be measured. Competent analysis of these data is a critical requirement to guide action in the medium-term.

Indications of the challenges faced in understanding network-level crash risks as illustrated in Figure 6.2.

Figure 6.2 Assessing risk on the network – major rural highways (Sri Lanka) - Source: Eric Howard.

This demonstrates the inherently unsafe condition of the infrastructure, the unrestricted access to it from the roadside, and the overall poor level of management of road safety on this section of the road network. It is a situation which occurs in many countries across the world.

There are many other common high crash risk environments. For example, crash risk is substantially increased when median openings are provided on major arterial roads with no provision made to protect turning vehicles from rear-end collisions, and no protection provided for oncoming vehicles in the other carriageway, or for turning vehicles moving into, or across, the other carriageway. Major negotiation with landowners who typically demand access to their businesses, or with road users wishing to have a convenient U turn facility, would be needed to achieve reduction in crash risks of this type. The prevalence of this condition indicates the difficulty faced by road authorities in changing community responses to circumstances of this nature.


Reference sources

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