November 18, 2019

Road Safety Week

‘Step Up for Safe Streets!’

Every year the road safety charity Brake coordinates Road Safety Week, the UK’s biggest annual road safety event.

In 2019, the event runs from 18th – 24th November and the theme is Step Up for Safe Streets, particularly aimed at making the streets safer for all users.

Brake say that somebody is killed or badly injured on a British road every 20 minutes and that these tragic accidents are all preventable.

Designing our roads and vehicles with ‘Safe Systems’ to stop human error causing deaths is one of the main points raised by Brake. They say that safety systems and technology are now available to be used in vehicles and on our road networks. These can apply the principle that our health and lives should not be compromised by the journeys we need to take every day. Brake maintains that no level of serious injury or death is acceptable on our roads.

There’s a lot more to it than that, however.

Road Safety Week focus

Brake’s road safety week focuses on two main areas –

Safe journeys which are possible when the road network and vehicles are designed to minimise human error. This safety-by-design is the basis of the safe systems approach.

Healthy journeys are a way to keep people healthy and fit. Choosing to cycle or walk must not put people at increased risk and health should not be compromised by breathing polluted air on the roads.

pedestrians and drivers road safety

What are ‘safe systems’?

There is no one single road safety system in use globally, but the basic precept of each is the statement that ’No loss of life is acceptable.’

Generally, the systems rely on responsibility for road safety being taken by absolutely everybody:

  • planners
  • engineers
  • policy makers
  • vehicle producers
  • fleet managers
  • road safety educators
  • health organisations
  • the media

Also, every road user, whether pedestrian, horse rider, cyclist or powered vehicle user must take responsibility for complying with the rules of the safety system.

The four main guiding principles that are fundamental to a safe system are that:

  1. Human error can lead to road accidents
  2. The human body has a defined limit to how much crash force it can tolerate before serious injury happens
  3. While every road user has the responsibility of care, consideration and abiding by traffic laws, those who design, build and manage our roads must share that responsibility.
  4. All the various parts of the road safety system must be strengthened in line with each other in order to multiply their effects and, if one part fails, road users will still be protected.

In addition, safe systems also align road safety management with wider social, economic, ethical and environmental goals. In making partnerships where government or transport agencies work closely together with other groups, problems associated with noise, congestion, pollution and lack of physical exercise due to vehicle use can be addressed.

Core requirements

There are four basic requirements for a safe system:

  • Safer roads
  • Safer vehicles
  • Safer speeds
  • Safer road use

Safer roads

To satisfy a safe system, roads must be designed to reduce crash-risk and the severity of injury if a crash does happen. These aims could be achieved by:

Segregating different types of road user by creating or enlarging cycle path networks; making more and safer pedestrian footways; developing safer routes for school children to walk.

Segregation of traffic which is moving at different speeds and in different directions by the use of ‘soft’ barriers for example, which will be flexible enough to reduce the impact shock on a vehicle in the event of a crash.

Appropriate speed limits should be applied if segregation is not practical, protecting those road users who are most vulnerable. For example, both Brighton & Hove and Bristol implement a 20mph speed limit in their city centres.

Self-explaining roads. The ideal safe system road should be self-explanatory to drivers – they should easily be able to see what is expected of them on that road. This can be achieved by each type of road having a distinctive and consistent design of signage, road markings and lighting.

Safer vehicles

Vehicles must be designed, built and regulated to bring the occurrence and consequences of collisions to a minimum and must focus on the survivability of a crash. This aim can be achieved implementing:

Technology which implements ‘active safety’ measures which help in preventing crashes. These include:

    • Stability control
    • Better road-vehicle interaction
    • Automatic braking systems
    • Speed limiters on fleet vehicles
    • Alcolocks (a system of breath testing fitted to cars which will stop the engine being started if the driver is over the alcohol limit)

Improved vehicle road worthiness, encouraging both businesses and private drivers to buy safer vehicles and to maintain them properly.

compulsory speed limiter intelligence speed assistance

Safer speeds

Safe systems’ speed limits take into account the limit of damage the human body can tolerate. They are also based on the amount of physical protection the different types of road user is likely to have. For example, being hit by a vehicle at 20mph would subject a pedestrian to a significant risk of death or life-changing injury; cars can protect their occupants up to about 30mph in a side-on collision, or up to about 40mph on a head-on crash.

A safe system needs to:

Set appropriate speed limits for the above parameters and also for the road types and conditions

Ensure existing limits are enforced by police, transport agencies and community groups working together to monitor vehicle speed and take appropriate enforcement measures

Provide education for road users by, for example, working with fleet drivers, taxi companies and other business users to employ speed limit compliance initiatives.

Safer road use

A safe system encourages everyone to use roads more responsibly and with greater safety awareness. This includes:

Educating new and experienced drivers alike to be more risk-aware; stressing the importance of complying with road rules and reducing driver distractions.

Reducing traffic by encouraging the use of public transport and car-sharing.

Working with schools to implement safe routes for children walking to and from school and increasing the number of school crossing patrols.

car driving accident

The first Safe Systems

The first safe systems were trialed by Sweden with their ‘Vision Zero’ strategy as long ago as 1994 and by the Netherlands’ ‘Sustainable Safety’ approach a year later, becoming law in both countries in 1997.

The two countries systems varied in detail, but both with the ultimate goal of reducing serious road casualties to zero.

Is there a UK Safe System?

Up to 2013, a safe system as such had not been adopted by the UK government as a whole. However, Highways England – the government-appointed company created to operate and improve England’s motorways and major roads – did have a central safe systems precept. The company strategy was based on ‘Safer vehicles, safer roads, safer people.’

On a regional level, following the 2013 publication of a guide by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (ROSPA), safe systems were implemented by several local administrations. These included Bristol, Brighton & Hove and Birmingham.

Since then, several government reports and safety statements have been produced. In 2019, central government’s transport department published a seventy-four point statement of actions designed to improve road safety.

So, step up and shout out!

Road Safety Week this year is all about encouraging everyone to ‘Step Up and Shout Out’ – to individually be more responsible for road safety and to shout out for the implementation of the new technologies and initiatives which can make our roads safer for all users.