Road Safety Manual
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2.5 The importance of government leadership

Achieving road safety results requires long-term governmental ownership, leadership and political will, which can be translated into ambitious long-term goals, step-wise targets for projects and programmes, and sufficient human and financial resources to achieve them.

An example from France of how political will at the highest level of government and with targeted investment can rapidly lead to improved road safety results is presented in Box 2.6.

Box 2.6: Road safety as a Presidential Priority in France, 2002

President Jacques Chirac, in his Bastille Day speech in 2002, designated road safety as one of the three national priorities for his Presidency and spearheaded a new road safety action plan supported by high level leadership and coordination in France. The plan adopted in December 2002 targeted key safety behaviours such as excess speed. The plan set aside 400 million euros for a 3-year investment plan to purchase as a first step 1,000 automatic radar devices, as well as a large number of vehicles and modern breath-testing equipment (breathalysers and ethylometers). New automatic processing centres were set up for speeding offences, which rose from 1.6 million in 2003 to 4.8 million in 2004. In the first year of implementation, crash rates declined by 17.5%, serious injuries fell by 19%, and deaths were 21% lower than the previous year. Over 3 years, deaths reduced from 7,242 (2002) to 4,900 (2005).

Source: Observatoire National Interministériel de Sécurité Routière (2004); FIA Foundation (2006).


Managing road safety is a shared responsibility at global, regional, national and local levels, and engages government, industry, other business and civil society across a wide range of sectors (Peden et al., 2004). This requires institutional leadership, cooperation and delivery capacity within government agencies, as well as with their industry, business sector and civil society partnerships over a sustained period. Road safety leadership and capacity at the jurisdictional level cannot be outsourced since the issues involved go to the core of government decision-making. Government leadership and related performance targets, tools and incentives are necessary to capture the external ‘co-benefits’ arising from improved road safety (outlined in Scope of  the Road Safety Problem). Careful leadership and effective governance is essential to ensure that competing interests will not obscure this shared responsibility (GRSF, 2009; SSATP, 2014).

The World Report on Road Traffic Injury Prevention (Peden et al., 2004) highlights the fundamental role of the lead agency for road safety. Its priority recommendation to countries is to establish leadership arrangements and guidance based on successful practice. Guidance towards these ends has been produced (GRSF, 2009). This includes detailed case studies and highlights the importance of the lead agency’s role in coordinating accountable, results-focused action across government, supported by effective coordination arrangements that go beyond a consultation role to include managing decision-making processes across agreed road safety partnerships. Successful practice has demonstrated the need for the agency to be a governmental body and to be publicly accountable for its performance. While effective delivery of key management functions by lead agencies can be identified, there is no preferred structural model. However, a central road safety office with adequate human, technical and financial resources is essential. Options include a stand-alone agency, a department within a Ministry or a roads authority, or an office reporting to the Head of State. Without this leadership to organise the actions of all agencies and stakeholders, experience shows that even the best strategies and plans will not be implemented.


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