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

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4. The Safe System Approach

Key messages

  • The Safe System approach is the most effective way of considering and responding to fatal and serious casualty crash risks on a network.
  • This approach is based on an ethical position where it can never be acceptable that people are seriously injured or killed on the network. It provides a set of design and operating principles to guide action on the journey to the long term elimination goal.
  • The long-term Safe System goal is the elimination of death and serious injuries on a country’s roads.
  • The Safe System is being adopted by an increasing number of countries and forms the basis for the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety.
  • The Safe System requires strong governmental leadership, as well as the engagement of a wide range of sectors.
  • The prime responsibility of a road authority and other agencies is to support road users to reach the end of their trips safely.
  • The Safe System is based on well-established safety principles — of known tolerance of the human body to crash forces, speed thresholds for managing crash impact energies to survivable levels, and the capacities of vehicles and forgiving infrastructure to reduce crash impact energy transfers to humans.
  • A focus on key crash types occurring on a network helps to identify the role and intervention options for each Safe System element. 
  • System-wide intervention strategies are required to avoid fatal and serious injury crash outcomes, including emergency medical care for crash victims.
  • There is a shared responsibility between system designers (who design and operate the roads) and road users, for safe travel outcomes on the road network.
  • The Safe System approach compels system designers to provide an safe environment, and to consider the combined system as the major factor in crashes rather than the traditional approach that placed most responsibility for safety on the road user.
  • The system design and operation must become forgiving of routine human (road user) error.


Reference sources

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