What every transport professional should know about road safety

Road safety refers to the interventions or countermeasures used to reduce or prevent road users from being killed or seriously injured.

Let me outline some of the road safety myths and facts that every transport professional should know.

1. “Road safety is no accident” 

An accident is defined as … An unfortunate incident that happens unexpectedly and unintentionally, typically resulting in damage or injury. [Oxford]

More than three people are killed and over 100 seriously injured on Australian roads every day. These are not random events, they are primarily due to human error. The risks are understood and can be prevented, so we are talking about crashes not accidents.

> Always refer to ‘road crashes’ not ‘road accidents’.

2. “Road safety is a man-made problem” 

Roads, traffic management systems and vehicles are all man-made. The road safety problem is thus a man-made problem and can be remedied by man-made solutions.

We can make roads safe, but the challenge is that the road traffic system is an unstable man-machine system that cannot fully cater for the range of human performance and error.

Vehicle safety has made tremendous advances since the 1970’s.

In more than 95% of crashes, human error can be identified in the causal chain.

> Building safer roads is not the full answer to the road safety problem.

3.“Road fatalities are the key metric

There is a focus on the total number of fatalities by the media and elected officials. The much larger proportion of serious injuries (more than 30 times fatalities) is less publicised and has an enormous to individuals and the community.

A serious injury means requiring medical treatment at a hospital. Some injuries have ongoing lifetime impacts for an individual, their families and the community.

There are three benchmarks used for international comparisons: 

  • road deaths per 100,000 population – a public health or personal measure [Australia: 5.34 in 2016]
  • road deaths per 100 million vehicle kilometres travelled – a transport or travel exposure measure [Australia: 0.52 in 2016]
  • road deaths per 10,000 vehicles – also a motorisation measure [Australia: 0.7 in 2016]

At a national or state level these are useful measures normalised by risk exposure for comparison year by year and across jurisdictions.

> Consider FSI (fatalities and serious injuries) as the metric and for comparison use a benchmark rate.

3.“Road fatalities are rare events

Across Australia there were 1,145 road fatalities or 3.1 per day. Considering the length or roads, the number of cars and the amount of travel, these are fairly rare events.

But statistical significance is critical, particularly when considering small sections of road, limited local areas or segments of the community.

A section of road may only have a fatal crash once every five years, so having enough data to draw a valid conclusion is difficult, and you also need to consider the changing environment – increasing population, number of vehicles amount of travel, mix of vehicles etc etc.

When considering a road safety intervention, consider the statistics.

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