A new report highlights the need for a new approach to road traffic safety and calls for a “Safe System” way of thinking.

Road crashes are the leading cause of death worldwide for young people aged 15 to 29 and the ninth leading cause of death overall. Rapid motorisation in many lower-income countries is expected to lead to an increase in traffic fatalities, while in many higher-income countries, progress in reducing fatalities has stalled.

To tackle this, the United Nations has set a target to halve the number of road fatalities over the coming years.

A group of pioneering countries and cities are leading the way. Sweden, the Netherlands and New York City, among others, base their road safety policies on “Vision Zero”, the aspiration that no-one should be killed in a crash. To help achieve this they have transformed their road networks into a “Safe System” – i.e. a traffic ecosystem where all elements are designed and managed together to avoid crashes and, where they do occur, serious injuries or death.

A new report by the International Transport Forum reviews the experience of Safe System countries and offers guidance for leaders who seek to drastically reduce road deaths in their communities.

Among the core recommendations are:

  • Be ambitious: Think safe roads, not just safer roads. The conventional approach to road safety seeks incremental improvements to current practice. A Safe System works backwards from the vision of eliminating road fatalities and serious injuries.
  • Be resolute: Foster a sense of urgency and lead the way. In the countries and cities that have adopted a Safe System, innovation occurred where political leaders strongly felt that the current approach no longer delivered. Strong and visionary leaders, who galvanise policy making as well as public opinion, open the way for others to follow.
  • Be inclusive: Establish shared responsibility for road safety. Today, avoiding harmful crashes is the responsibility of the road user. A Safe System requires everyone with a role in the traffic environment to recognise this role and assume responsibility for making traffic safe.
  • Be concrete: Underpin aspirational goals with concrete operational targets. Establish milestones that show the vision is long-term but realistic. The Swedish government was able to report in 2008 that no child had been killed in a bicycle crash that year. A number of cities in Europe, Japan and the US recorded no road fatality in the course of a year, and 16 towns in Europe of more than 50,000 inhabitants had no traffic fatalities in five years.

Iain Cameron, chairman of the Working Group of more than 30 road safety experts from 24 countries and organisations which prepared the report, said: “We need a paradigm shift in road safety policy to stop the road death epidemic, and we need it now. It is unrealistic to expect that education and enforcement alone will bring the needed step change. Even road users who know and follow the rules make mistakes. A Safe System creates an environment in which simple mistakes will no longer kill people.”

Click here for the full report, Zero Road Deaths and Serious Injuries: Leading a Paradigm Shift in Road Safety.