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

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1.1 Introduction

This chapter outlines the global crisis of road traffic injury and the substantial value of preventing death and serious injury in road crashes. It also introduces the key road safety concepts that underpin this manual’s guidance for implementing affordable and effective interventions to achieve results that may be required in any given context. The first of these concepts is the challenging Safe System long-term goal and strategy, which is recommended to all countries regardless of their socioeconomic status and level of infrastructure development.

Secondly, this chapter highlights the planned, systematic approach needed for effective road safety management to produce successful road safety results. As discussed more fully in later chapters, these approaches provide a foundation and implementation framework for road safety investment programmes and demonstration projects. It is emphasised that these programmes and projects need to seek targeted results for the short to medium-term, appropriate to the learning and management capacity of the country concerned. Affordable, effective intervention is required that better addresses the needs of all road users, including those most vulnerable. The chapter highlights the importance of aligning road safety with other important societal objectives, given the significant potential for shared benefits and in order to maximise cost-effective investment.

Road safety as a global problem

Economic development makes an important contribution to increased mobility and motorisation. It is forecast that over the first 30 years of the 21st century, more motor vehicles will be produced globally than in the first 100 years of motorisation. The majority of these vehicles will be used in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs)1 (Bliss, 2011).

Alongside rapidly increasing rates of motorisation in LMICs, premature death and disability is occurring on a disastrous scale. Global road deaths increased by 46% between 1990 and 2010 (Mathers et al., 2012). More than 90% of road traffic deaths occurred in LMICs and the victims are predominantly vulnerable road users, males, and include the most socio-economically active citizens (WHO, 2013a). Apart from the sheer scale of human misery involved, the often underestimated socio-economic value of preventing these tragedies is substantial (Jacobs et al., 2000; OECD, 2008; McInerney, 2012).

The road safety performance gap between rich and poor countries is set to widen further. It is projected that, by 2030, around 96% of global road deaths will occur in LMICs with 4% of deaths occurring in high-income countries (HICs). Forecasts of global mortality trends indicate that road traffic crashes are the eighth leading leading cause of death (WHO, 2018) and is set to increase to the 7th  leading cause of death by 2030 (WHO, 2013b). Without new initiatives, forecasts indicate that more than 50 million deaths and 500 million serious injuries on the world’s roads can be anticipated with some certainty over the first 50 years of the 21st century (Bhalla et al., 2008). This can be compared with only an estimated 1% probability that over the same period, more than 40 million people could be killed in mega-wars or by a virulent influenza epidemic and around 4 million people by volcanoes or tsunamis (Smil, 2008).

In response to these developments, the widely endorsed recommendations of the World Report (Peden et al., 2004) and other initiatives, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed a Decade of Action for Road Safety between 2011 and 2020. Progress made during the first Decade of Action for Road Safety laid the foundation for accelerated action in the years ahead. Recognizing the ongoing importance of the problem and the need to act, governments from around the world declared unanimously, therough UN General Assembly Resolutioin 74/2999, a secon Decade of Action for Road Safety 2021-2030 with the explicit target to reduce road deaths and injuries by at least 50% during that period.
WHO and the UN regional commissions, in cooperation with ohter partners in the UN Road Safety Collaboration have developed a Global Plan for the Second Decade of Action 2021-2030, which was released in October 2021. The Global Plan calls for all countries to act and calls on governments and partners to implement an integrated Safe System approach (WHO, 2021)
With the planning, design, operation and use of the road network as its main focus, this manual addresses three out of the five pillars: Road safety management (Pillar 1); Safer roads and mobility (Pillar 2); and Safer road users (Pillar 4). Safer speeds, which are embedded in several of the pillars of the Global Plan is also addressed.

Conceptual foundations

It is now widely accepted that serious health losses in road traffic crashes are largely preventable and predictable – a human-made problem open to rational analysis and effective road safety management (Peden et al, 2004). Road traffic systems can be developed that reduce the likelihood of serious or fatal crashes occurring and to minimise injury severity in the event of a crash. This is supported by a substantial body of knowledge on how to achieve significant lessening of the costly, adverse impacts of motorisation. In European Union countries, for example, the overall volume of traffic tripled between 1970 and 2000, while the number of people killed per million inhabitants decreased by 50% (CEC, 2003). (See key overviews by Peden et al., 2004; OECD, 2008; GSRF, 2009).

In the 1990s there were two major and complementary developments that informed modern best-practice to road safety and how to more effectively manage for better results. The first was led by Sweden (Vision Zero) (Tingvall, 1995) and the second Netherlands (Sustainable Safety) (Koornstra et al., 1992), both representing a paradigm shift towards the ambitious Safe System goal (see Box 1.1).

Box 1.1: The Safe System goal and strategy

The Safe System goal for the long-term is the elimination of death and serious injury, supported in the interim by periodic, quantitative casualty reduction targets (OECD, 2008). The aim is to work towards the design of a system which minimises death and serious injury, while accepting that crashes with minor outcomes might still occur. The ethical Safe System goal has effectively re-defined what is meant by ‘safety’ in road safety management goals in effective practice (DaCoTa 2012c).

The Safe System strategy aims to ensure that in the event of a crash, the impact energies remain below the threshold likely to produce either death or serious injury. The aim is to address known human characteristics by accommodating common, unintentional error, and to take better account of the vulnerability of the human body in the planning, design, operation and use of the road traffic system to benefit all road users. Safe System intervention addresses all elements of the road traffic system and their linkages — road infrastructure, vehicles, the emergency medical system, and road users.

Source: Koornstra et al.,1992; Tingvall, 1995; OECD, 2008; DaCoTa, 2012c.


A Safe System approach places road safety in the mainstream of road traffic system planning, design and operation. Building on the best of previous approaches, Safe System better addresses the needs of vulnerable road users and is particularly relevant to the needs of LMICs. As discussed in The Safe System Approach, firmly establishing a Safe System in national road safety work requires strong political backing and underwriting in legislation (OECD, 2008; Belin et al., 2012).

More recently, the World Bank, the OECD, and the International Standards Organization (ISO) have underlined that effective road safety management is a systematic process. Road safety does not just occur, but has to be produced. The safety performance produced by countries active in road safety has been achieved following years of sustained investment in road safety management and governmental leadership. The road safety management system is the productive capacity to deliver key institutional management functions, which produce and enable effective, system-wide interventions that are designed to produce results – with the Safe System goal and strategy representing the most ambitious approach (OECD, 2008; GRSF, 2009; ISO, 2012). These holistic concepts are the common threads running throughout this manual. They represent the summation of effective multi-disciplinary road safety knowledge and successful practice across the road traffic system, which have been built up over decades. 

The gradual and increasingly more successful path towards these shifts in road safety thinking and practice are briefly outlined in Box 1.2 and are discussed in more detail in Key Developments in Road Safety. LMICs are being urged to avoid the evolutionary path of industrialised countries and to take key steps to move directly to affordable, effective Safe System approaches noted in Phase 4. High-income countries which are now setting increasingly ambitious road safety goals and targets are also advised to adopt this approach (OECD, 2008; GRSF, 2009; PIARC, 2012; WHO, 2013a). The implications for current practice in a variety of settings are recurrent themes in this manual and specific guidance is provided on appropriate steps for different road safety contexts.

Box 1.2: The progressive shifts in thinking and practice about how to manage road safety

- Phase 1: 1950s thinking and practice focused on driver intervention and a ‘blame the victim’ approach. Safety management was characterised by dispersed, uncoordinated, and insufficiently resourced units performing isolated single functions.

- Phase 2: 1960s–1970s thinking and practice focused on system-wide interventions encompassing infrastructure, vehicles and users in the pre-crash, in-crash and post-crash stages, but not yet emphasising institutional management responsibilities.

- Phase 3: 1980s–1990s thinking and practice focused on system-wide interventions and targeted results, and saw the beginnings of institutional leadership and accountability for the implementation of targeted plans, which led to increasingly significant reductions in deaths and serious injuries during these decades.

- Phase 4: Since the 1990s, thinking and practice has focused on increasingly holistic approaches, generically known as the Safe System approach, seeking the long-term elimination of death and serious injury. This goal is supported by interim targets and system-wide interventions (foreseen in the 1960s and 1970s, and used increasingly in the 1980s and 1990s). These pay greater attention to human error and vulnerabilities, with renewed emphasis on speed management, better road and vehicle crash protection, and post-crash care. This is underpinned by shared responsibility and strengthened, accountable institutional leadership.

Source: OECD, 2008; GRSF, 2009.


This manual outlines a suggested path for jurisdictions to move from weak to stronger institutional capacity, particularly in their governmental lead agency and coordination arrangements and results management. The aim is to provide state-of-the-art guidance to assist all those involved in the safe planning, design, operation and use of the road network in accordance with national, regional and global goals.


  • 1.The World Bank categorises countries into low-, medium- and high-income groups based on gross national income (GNI) per capita, where low-income in 2021 = $1,085 or less; middle income = $1,086–$13,205; and high income = $13,206 or more (https:/
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