Road Safety Manual
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6.6 Setting Targets

Target-setting Approaches

Target-setting can be informed by the estimated outcomes of agreed action plans. Alternatively (and most commonly) targets can simply be aspirational in nature.

Most HICs will have adopted a national road safety target for a five to ten year period. The associated strategy (investment plan) for achieving the target is likely to be supported by action plans with a two to three year life, which enable periodic review and adjustment to be made to priorities over the life of the strategy and target.

In some cases the target will be a top down declaration of aspiration with necessary strategy and actions to achieve it to be determined promptly, progressively implemented and with progress regularly reviewed.

Top down target-setting, such as applying the Decade of Action 50% fatality reduction target for the period from 2011 to 2020 (see Typical Numerical Targets Adopted – Examples in Setting Targets for more detail), is much more likely to be applied in LMICs, as there is often little other evidence-based information on which to start their road safety journey. However, this aspirational approach can often lead to disappointing short-term and medium-term results.

For HICs that have good crash data, an understanding of the problems, knowledge of potential solutions, and good resourcing (in breadth and depth) in the agencies and the research community, more specific targeting can be developed. In some HICs, the target is based upon a negotiated set of strategic actions with a calculated (estimated) impact on fatalities and serious injuries. There will be linkages between the bureaucracy and the political level for discussion and resolution of potential implementation issues (often beyond transport impacts) that could otherwise derail/block initiatives – before target (and associated strategy) adoption and publication. This can be considered bottom up target setting.

Bottom up modelling of potential strategy achievement in order to develop a quantitatively-based target is a tool used in a number of leading jurisdictions. Modelling (Austroads, 2013) generally aims to determine current trends in crashes based on recent events to consider road use over time, and any potential changes to road use patterns (e.g. from changes in traffic volume or composition arising from economic growth), as well as make assumptions about likely future casualties given these forecasts. This enables the estimation of a baseline forecast, which shows the expected change in casualties over the life of a strategy if no further action was to be taken.

This is often known as a business-as-usual case and is an important step in the modelling process. Without this business-as-usual estimate, it would be impossible to predict the gains in road safety as a result of any planned initiatives. This baseline case allows for changes in population growth, increases in exposure on the road network, as well as various economic factors.

The effects of these forecasts on broader transport objectives need to be examined, particularly those relating to community health, e.g. changes to travel mode, impacts on levels of activity, or environmental impacts (Racioppi et al., 2004). There may also be a need to link with other sectors, particularly the health sector, to determine other policies that may impact on the baseline forecast.

While this bottom up approach is a powerful way to foster informed discussion about the options available, it is of course no guarantee of acceptance of the proposed actions at the political level. Leaders may not support actions proposed as necessary to deliver a more ambitious target.

Whether the top down or bottom up approach is used to produce a target, this knowledge and experience will underpin strategy and action plan development and implementation. Either approach is capable of supporting improved road safety performance. However, as noted in Strengthening Capacity to Set and Deliver Targets, until sufficient capacity to manage road safety is in place in a country, it is unlikely that a bottom up approach will be feasible. For this reason, Table 6.4 indicates that for the ‘establishment’ and early ‘growth’ investment phases a top down approach to target setting is likely to be the only feasible option for LMICs. However, it will be aspirational with little chance of success.

Table 6.4: Feasible target setting options

While LMICs could usefully base any short-term target they adopt on the five to ten year targets currently being adopted by good practice countries, there are major shortcomings in doing so:

  • In many LMICs, fatalities and serious injuries are continuing to increase as motorisation growth continues.
  • LMICs (as noted earlier) do not have the building blocks in place in their investment establishment phase to take the necessary action to achieve change which is being proposed in the HICs, who are mostly in the growth, or even consolidation, phases.

LMICs may wish to indicate a short-term target in the initial years of investment establishment as this aspiration may drive improvement. However, they need to recognise that it is highly unlikely that any targets can be achieved until their capacity to manage road safety is strengthened.

Regional/state and local plans and targets should reflect the adopted national approach, with variations for local circumstance and intent. In this way, a more consistent understanding by the community, road safety practitioners, and politicians at various levels of government can be established. However, target-setting at the local level (as distinct from the regional/state level) is likely to be problematic as the data, resources and level of expertise are generally not readily available. Therefore, national or state targets are often adopted.

Case Studies – Target-setting

A bottom up approach to interim target-setting was followed in the state of Western Australia (Box 6.9).

Box 6.9: Western Australia: a bottom up approach to target setting

The state of Western Australia (WA), Australia, developed a Safe System based road safety strategy for the period 2008 to 2020. A mathematical model was developed to provide the projected benefits of implementation of a combination of best practice Safe System countermeasures. Various options and combinations of benefits derived for a range of policy and funding choices were provided to the public through a comprehensive public consultation programme as the strategy was developed.

Australasia’s Safe System philosophy aspires in the long-term to prevent death and serious injury within its road transport system. The Western Australian approach asserts that new fundamentally safe road designs will result from viewing the safety of the road transport system in this light. These safe designs and protocols for operation can shift system safety a large step forward in contrast to the incremental progress characterising traditional approaches.

Using evidence-based estimates of effectiveness and recent crash data for WA, the model forecast future savings in serious casualties for each year from 2008 to 2020. These predicted savings were summed over the strategy life for each initiative, assuming it alone was implemented. A full range of best practice Safe System options drawn from combinations of safe roads and roadsides, safe speeds, safe vehicles and safe road use, were prepared for comparison of serious casualty savings. The predicted total number of serious casualties prevented over the life of the strategy was the principal measure of option worth. These savings were estimated relative to the level of serious casualties that could be expected to occur in the absence of a significant road safety strategy. (Offsetting allowance was made for the combined effect of traffic growth and serious casualty reduction due to increased motorisation, and for the impact of potential delays in implementation of a measure). The model produced the following two key outputs:

  • the estimated total number of serious casualties which would be saved over the life of the strategy;
  • the percentage reduction in serious casualties which would be achieved in the final year of the strategy compared with the most recent starting or baseline year for which data were available.

An optimal combination of these Safe System based initiatives was proposed. If adopted fully, this combination of measures was estimated to reduce annual serious casualties in WA by around 50% of 2006 levels by 2020.

Source: MUARC (2008).


Top down or aspirational target-setting is the most widely used method – and it is the only feasible approach which can be used in the establishment phase. It can also be used effectively for the growth and consolidation phases. For example, Sweden operates a mix of top down and bottom up approaches to interim road safety target-setting (see Box 6.10).

Box 6.10: Sweden, a mix of top down and bottom up approaches

In 2012, Sweden conducted a review of its 2010 to 2020 strategy and its (then) current interim targets and performance indicators to ensure that the interim targets for road safety remained challenging and realistic. Reductions in fatalities in the three previous years (to 2012) had exceeded earlier predicted outcomes and progress towards 2020 targets.

Agencies meet six times a year to monitor road safety performance against agreed objectives and targets to 2020, share knowledge and coordinate efforts. The then current goal for road safety specified an interim target for a 50% reduction in fatalities and a 25% reduction in the number of serious injuries between 2007 and 2020. Measures to improve road safety for children were to be given special priority. Since these interim period targets were adopted, progress has been managed and monitored on the basis of 13 agreed performance indicators. The results have been analysed, presented and discussed at annual conferences since 2009. The 2011 review analysis considered future options and past recent trends in performance, and showed that current targets for the maximum number of fatalities in 2020 will be achieved due to vehicle and infrastructure trends that can be predicted until 2020. This is without the contributions expected from other measures (i.e. users, speeds, post-crash care and more). The greatest improvement will be for protected road users.

The analysis shows that it would be possible to strengthen the targets to a 50% reduction of fatalities and 40% for very severe injuries between 2010 and 2020. But that would require measures above and beyond those that are included in the prediction, corresponding to approximately 70 fewer fatalities and 210 fewer very severe injuries on an annual basis. The diagram below shows alternative targets for trends in fatalities in road traffic until 2020.

Reasons for performing an analysis included:

  • Current trends suggested the previous 2020 target does not constitute a major challenge.
  • New measures have emerged that need assigned targets, and new problems have appeared.

Figure 6.3

Conclusions from the analysis:

It is reliable and offers a solid basis for priorities in the ongoing road safety effort.

  • Strengthening the targets in the manner suggested by the analysis is sufficiently challenging to encourage continuation of effective effort and innovation.
  • The set of performance indicators for the joint road safety effort should be revised.
  • Trends in the area of safe vehicles and infrastructure will strongly contribute to target fulfilment for 2020. A number of challenges – particularly improving speed compliance, unprotected road user safety and use of new technology – must also be dealt with.
  • Achievement of targets identified by the analysis requires efficient management by objectives and new knowledge, especially for improving unprotected road user safety.


Typical Numerical Targets Adopted – Examples

For a road safety strategy to be successful, realistic but ambitious quantified road safety targets should be set. As outlined in Key Developments in Road Safety, the establishment of quantified road safety targets has been found to have significant association with improvements in road safety. Road safety targets need to be quantitative and measurable so that the level of aspiration is clear, the extent to which the target has been achieved can be determined, and if it has not been achieved, then the extent to which the result is short of the target can be measured.

Quantified road safety targets have been set in a number of regions (see Key Developments in Road Safety,) and countries in recent decades, including Finland, France, The Netherlands, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and the United States.

Ireland has achieved substantial fatality reductions in recent years to be among the best performing EU countries. The strategy adopted for the period 2013 to 2020 has a target of a 24% reduction in fatalities and a 40% reduction in serious injuries over the life of the strategy (Road Safety Authority, 2013).

Many countries have adopted the UN Decade of Action target of a 50% reduction in fatalities and serious injuries from 2011 to 2020. Indonesia is one example of a country adopting this top down 50% reduction target (fatalities per population) with an associated strategy and policy actions adopted to achieve this target by 2020. There is also a targeted 80% reduction in the fatality rate per population to be achieved by 2035, with policy actions identified to achieve that outcome. These targets and policy actions are expressed in the National Road Safety Master Plan 2011–35 (Republic of Indonesia, 2011) for the period to 2015 and then for each five-year period to 2035. Progress has been slow. Measurement, evaluation of, and reporting on progress against the Plan has been increased substantially in 2014 with a focus on detailing the activities (content, timing, resources) required to deliver the actions within the Plan.

National plans should provide sufficient flexibility for local preferences and priorities to be identified and expressed in local plans.

Setting Targets for Selected Road User Groups/Risks

In addition to final outcome targets for overall fatalities and serious injuries being defined in a strategy, outcome targets can be set for different at-risk road user groups and for various risk categories under the Safe System pillars.

For example, the current New Zealand Safer Journeys 2010–2020 Strategy (Ministry of Transport, 2010) targets a 40% reduction in the fatality rate of young people and a 20% reduction in fatalities resulting from crashes involving drug or alcohol impaired drivers, as shown in Table 6.5.

Table 6.5: New Zealand’s Safer Journeys 2010-20 Strategy
Target focus Target reduction

Increase the safety of young drivers

Reduce the road fatality rate of young people from 21 per 100 000 population to a rate similar to that of young Australians of 13 per 100 000

Reduce alcohol/drug impaired driving

Reduce the level of fatalities caused by drink and/or drugged driving, currently 28 deaths per one million population, to a rate similar to that in Australia of 22 deaths per one million population

Achieve safer roads and roadsides

Significantly reduce the crash risk on New Zealand’s high-risk routes

Achieve safer speeds

Significantly reduce the impact of speed on crashes by reducing the number of crashes attributed to speeding and driving too fast for the conditions

Increase the safety of motorcycling

Reduce the road fatality rate of motorcycle and moped riders from 12 per 100 000 population to a rate similar to that of the best performing Australian state, Victoria, which is 8 per 100 000

Improve the safety of the light vehicle fleet

Have more new vehicles enter the country with the latest safety features. The average age of the New Zealand light vehicle fleet will also be reduced from over 12 years old to a level similar to that of Australia, which is 10 years

Achieve safer walking and cycling

Achieve a reduction in the crash risk for pedestrians and particularly cyclists, while at the same time encouraging an increase in use of these modes through safer road infrastructure

Improve the safety of heavy vehicles

Reduce the number of serious crashes involving heavy vehicles

Reduce the impact of fatigue and address distraction

Make management of driver distraction and fatigue a habitual part of what it is to be a safe and competent driver

Reduce the impact of high risk drivers

Reduce the number of repeat alcohol and speed offenders and incidents of illegal street racing

Increase the level of restraint use

Achieve a correct use and fitting rate of 90% for child restraints and make the use of booster seats the norm for children aged 5 to 10

Increase the safety of older New Zealanders

Reduce the road fatality rate of older New Zealanders from 15 per 100 000 population to a rate similar to that of older Australians of 11 per 100 000

Austroads (2013) analyses the advantages for safety planning of forecasting likely growth of traffic, such as the projected impacts of increased truck traffic. Increased heavy vehicle traffic (as for increases in all traffic) will (in the absence of interventions) lead to increased road trauma. It is important to allow for these impacts in estimating overall road safety target outcomes, especially targets developed using a bottom up approach.

Reference sources

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