The evolution of road safety management for results

As outlined in the World Report on Road Traffic Injury Prevention (WHO, 2004) and the follow up World Bank Transport Note [6], progressive shifts in road safety management thinking and practices in high-income countries have been evident. Since the 1950s there have been four significant phases of development, which have become progressively more ambitious in terms of the results desired.


Phase 1 - Focus on driver interventions.

In the 1950s and 60s safety management was generally characterized by dispersed, uncoordinated, and insufficiently resourced institutional units performing isolated single functions (Koornstra et al, 2002). Road safety policies placed considerable emphasis on the driver by establishing legislative rules and penalties and expecting subsequent changes in behaviour, supported by information and publicity. It was argued that since human error contributed mostly to crash causation it could be addressed most effectively by educating and training the road user to behave better. Placing the onus of blame on the road traffic victim acted as a major impediment to the appropriate authorities fully embracing their responsibilities for a safer road traffic system (Rumar, 1999).

Phase 2 - Focus on system-wide interventions.

In the 1970s and 1980s, these earlier approaches gave way to strategies which recognized the need for a systems approach to intervention. Dr. William Haddon, an American epidemiologist, developed a systematic framework for road safety based on the disease model which encompassed infrastructure, vehicles and users in the pre-crash, in-crash and post crash stages (Haddon, 1968). Central to this framework was the emphasis on effectively managing the exchange of kinetic energy in a crash which leads to injury to ensure that the thresholds of human tolerances to injury were not exceeded. The focus of policy broadened from an emphasis on the driver in the pre-crash phase to also include in-crash protection (both for roadsides and vehicles) and post crash care. This broadened it to a system-wide approach to intervention and the complex interaction of factors which influence injury outcomes. It underpinned a major shift in road safety practice which took several decades to evolve. However, the focus remained at the level of systematic intervention and did not directly address the institutional management functions producing these interventions or the results that were desired from them.

Phase 3 - Focus on system-wide interventions, targeted results and institutional leadership.

By the early 1990s good practice countries were using action focused plans with numerical outcome targets to be achieved with broad packages of system-wide measures based on monitoring and evaluation. On-going monitoring established that growing motorization need not inevitably lead to increases in death rates but could be reversed by continuous and planned investment in improving the quality of the traffic system. The United Kingdom, for example, halved its death rate (per 100,000 head of population) between 1972 and 1999 despite a doubling in motorised vehicles. Key institutional management functions were also becoming more effective. Institutional leadership roles were identified, inter-governmental coordination processes were established and funding and resource allocation mechanisms and processes were becoming better aligned with the results required. Developments in Australasian jurisdictions (e.g. Victoria and New Zealand) further enhanced institutional management functions concerning results focus, multi-sectoral coordination, delivery partnerships, and funding mechanisms (WHO, 2004; Bliss, 2004; Wegman et al., 2006; Trinca et al., 1988). Accountability arrangements were enhanced by the use of target hierarchies linking institutional outputs with intermediate and final outcomes to coordinate and integrate multi-sectoral activities. This phase laid the foundation for today’s best practice and reflects the state of development found in many higher performing countries today.

Phase 4 - Focus on system-wide interventions, long-term elimination of deaths and serious injuries and shared responsibility.

By the late 1990s, two of the best performing countries had determined that improving upon the ambitious targets that had already been set would require rethinking of interventions and institutional arrangements. The Dutch Sustainable Safety (Wegman et al., 1997 and 2008) and Swedish Vision Zero (Tingvall, 1995; Committee of inquiry into road traffic responsibility, 2000) strategies re-defined the level of ambition and set a goal to make the road system intrinsically safe. The implications of this level of ambition are currently being worked through in the countries concerned and elsewhere. These strategies recognize that speed management is central and have re-focused attention on road and vehicle design and related protective features. The ‘blame the victim’ culture is superseded by ‘blaming the traffic system’ which throws the spotlight on operator accountability. These examples of Safe System approaches have influenced strategies in Norway, Finland, Denmark, Switzerland and Australia.

Today the growing view is that road safety is a system-wide and shared multi-sectoral responsibility which is becoming increasingly ambitious in terms of its results focus. Sustaining the level of ambition now evident in high-income countries requires a road safety management system based on effective institutional management functions that can deliver evidence-based interventions to achieve desired results. Achievement of the ultimate goal of eliminating death and serious injury will require continued application of good practice developed in the third phase of targeted programmes coupled with innovative solutions which are yet to be determined based on well-established safety principles.


Source: Bliss and Breen, 2008 [5] reproduced by OECD, 2008 [52]

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