Safe System Approach

In 2018, 1,784 people were killed and 28,122 people were seriously injured in reported road accidents in Great Britain. Around 90% of road crashes involve some element of human error. Although educating road users can reduce the number of road crashes that occur, human error cannot be eradicated. Therefore, road users will still sometimes make mistakes that can lead to collisions.

One way in which the number of road users killed or seriously injured can be reduced is by adopting a Safe System approach, so that when crashes do occur, it is less likely that the road users involved will be killed or seriously injured. Safe System is the generic term for approaches such as ‘Vision Zero’, ‘Sustainable Safety’ and ‘Towards Zero’. It is based primarily on Vision Zero, recognising that human beings’ lives and health should never be compromised by their need to travel.

Unlike the traditional approach to road safety, the Safe System approach recognises that human error is no longer the primary cause of accidents. Rather, a failure of the road system is the cause of many collisions that result in death or serious injury. It also shapes interventions to meet the long-term goal of zero deaths and serious injuries, rather than relying on traditional interventions to set the limits of any long-term targets.

Road crash costs usually represent around 1-3% of a country’s gross domestic product (GDP), depending on the approach used. The Safe System approach can produce economic savings for a society, as the costs of the prevention of accidents are usually substantially less than the cost of collisions occurring. Therefore, attention must be given to making roads and roadsides, vehicles and speeds more forgiving, as well as continuing to work towards achieving greater levels of road user compliance. In terms of individual incidents, studies have found that in a high percentage of fatal crashes, either the road or the vehicle did not meet safety standards that would be present in a fully implemented Safe System approach. This shows that the approach could reduce fatalities, even without addressing road user behaviour.

UN Sustainable Development Goals

An example of a goal following the principles of the Safe System is the UN Sustainable Development Goals. On January 1 2016, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development officially came into force. These Goals had been adopted by world leaders in September 2015 at a UN summit.

The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals act as a blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. They address the global challenges we face, including those related to poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace and justice. There are 17 Goals, all of which are interconnected. The aim is that all 17 goals are achieved by 2030.

Goal 3.6 is to by 2020, halve the number of global deaths and injuries from road traffic accidents. A five pillar approach to road safety has been adopted as a framework for the decade for action on road safety (2011-2020). Our factsheet identifies the progress both in the UK and internationally towards this goal.

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