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Shift needed to combat cost of road accidents - forum

Oct 02 2016 15:07
Carin Smith

Cape Town - Around 1.25 million people are killed on the world’s roads every year, according to the World Health Organisation.

Between 20 and 50 million people are seriously injured. They cause enormous economic losses, estimated at around 2% to 5% of the gross domestic product (GDP) of countries.

"Clearly, such levels of road deaths and serious injuries are unacceptable both in terms of human suffering as well as societal and economic costs and not sustainable," according to the International Transport Forum (ITF).

"A common feature of several well-performing countries is that they have adopted a long-term policy goal that no-one should be killed or seriously injured in a crash on their roads."

Drastically reducing road fatalities and serious injuries on a global scale will need more than increasing efforts in implementing traditional road safety measures, states a new report by the ITF.

Sweden, the Netherlands and New York City, among others, base their road safety policies on “Vision Zero”, the aspiration that no-one should be killed in a crash.

José Viegas, secretary general of the ITF, says there is huge potential for lower-income countries to leapfrog the spikes in road fatalities usually seen with growing car numbers, by drawing on lessons from the safe system pioneers.

Investments into capacity-building measures for those countries will pay off in human lives saved, in his view.

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"Real progress will necessitate a fundamental paradigm shift in the way the road safety problem is viewed, as well as in the strategies used to address it. This paradigm shift involves a move from traditional road safety policies to an integrated view in which road traffic becomes a 'safe system' where serious outcomes from crashes are prevented in the first place," advises the report.

Data from some pioneering countries shows that about 30% of serious crashes are caused by deliberate violations and risk-taking behaviour, while the majority result from simple errors of perception or judgement by otherwise compliant persons.

"An approach to road safety assuming that humans can be faultless road users throughout their lives is flawed. Significantly, it is also at odds with the safety approach taken in aviation, shipping, rail transport or occupational health in general, where safe behaviour is encouraged and guided through system design and builds changes that provide protection for the humans involved even where they err," says the ITF.

"A safe system moves beyond reactive approaches based on analysis of past crashes. Instead, it takes a proactive approach to guide safe behaviour while also assessing the risks inherent in a road network and identifying priority interventions that prevent serious trauma when crashes invariably occur."

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Four guiding principles are central to a safe system:

- People make mistakes that can lead to road crashes;
- The human body has a known, limited physical ability to tolerate crash forces before harm occurs;
- While individuals have a responsibility to act with care and within traffic laws, a shared responsibility exists with those who design, build, manage and use roads and vehicles to prevent crashes resulting in serious injury or death and to provide post-crash care;
- All parts of the system must be strengthened in combination to multiply their effects, and road users are still protected if one part fails.

The ITF says a safe system, therefore, requires understanding and managing the complex and dynamic interaction between operating speeds, vehicles, road infrastructure and road user behaviour, in a holistic and integrated way, so that the sum of the individual parts of the system combine for a greater overall effect and if one part fails the other parts will still prevent serious harm from occurring.

"Moving to a safe system is a learning-by-doing process best described as a journey which presents opportunities, hazards and challenges along the way. The experiences of the pioneering countries show that each follows its own journey, shaped by the cultural, temporal and local context, but guided by the four underlying principles," according to the ITF.

The ITF recommends the following:

- Think safe roads, not safer roads;
- Nothing will change in road safety without strong and visionary leaders;
- Committed sectoral leaders and chief executives of companies and agencies are essential to create support for a safe system;
- Foster a sense of urgency to drive change;
- Underpin aspirational goals with concrete operational targets;
- Establish shared responsibility for road safety;
- Apply a results-focussed way of working among road safety stakeholders;
- Leverage all parts of a safe system for greater overall effect and so that if one part fails the other parts will still prevent serious harm;
- A safe system seeks to create an environment that, above all, guides and encourages the user to act safely, but recognises that human errors will occur.
- A safe system holistically integrates the management of speed, vehicles and road and roadside infrastructure so that when a crash occurs, it provides protection to ensure impact forces do not cause serious harm;
- Use a safe system to make city traffic safe for vulnerable road users;
- Build safe system capacity in low and middle-income countries to improve road safety in rapidly motorising parts of the world;
- Support data collection, analysis and research on road traffic.

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itf  |  world economy  |  transport  |  road accidents


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