Where the Future of Road Safety?

Road safety at its core has the inherent risks from a combination of the physical vulnerability of the human body and the levels of kinetic energy in crashes – resulting from speed and mass.

Looking back, in Australia the peak road safety fatality rate occurred in the early 1970’s – in excess of 30 fatalities per 100,000 population. 

Since the 1970’s there have been enormous improvements with the current rate now below 5 – a remarkable achievement in the face of significant population and travel growth. 

This has been achieved by systematically deploying well-known interventions:

  • Safer road user behaviour – such as reducing speeding and drink driving, increasing seat belt and helmet use; through legislation, enforcement, and education campaigns
  • Safer infrastructure – through applying best practices in planning and design and building safer roads
  • Safer vehicles – through better crashworthiness, and active vehicle safety technology.

Underlying this has been considerable effort to focus on results, develop and implement best practices, and applying a consistent approach to collecting and analysing data.

Where next?

The challenge now is to determine what should be the next steps to achieve further improvements in road safety. It is becoming harder and harder to further improve road safety and reduce road trauma.

So how can we continue to improve? There are two answers to this question. 

Firstly, be more effective and more efficient in developing and implementing the proven interventions – including align the deliverables of key stakeholders. 

Secondly, double down on the safe system approach and moving towards Vision Zero – an ultimate aim of having no traffic fatalities: “it can never be ethically acceptable that people are killed or seriously injured when moving within the road transport system”. 

This started with The Netherlands Sustainable Safety in the early 1990’s and Sweden legislating the Vision Zero principle in 1997. The achievements with these initiatives have been a 30-40% reduction in fatalities and an estimated benefit-cost ratio of 4:1. Not too shabby.

A Safe Systems approach deals with human behaviour in a proactive and integrated way by creating an environment for safe human behaviour. Technology will further enhance road safety with the arrival of connected and automated vehicles.

The future of road safety is uncertain. Our knowledge of the causes of crashes and potential remedies is constantly increasing. But common sense (plus applying best practices) is not always common practice.

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