What is the Safe System approach to Road Safety?

Traffic Control Melbourne

The Australian Safe System is a holistic approach to road safety that assesses, guides and improves road design and usage. The aim is to reduce the risk of fatal and serious injury by creating a framework that outlines the shared responsibility of road users, as well as those who maintain, design and operate all parts of the transport system.

What is the Safe System?

The Safe System is a road safety strategy that ensures roads are designed and managed to minimise incidences of death and serious injury.

It operates on three basic principles:

  1. People are fallible and subject to error when using roads (whether driving, riding or walking).
  2. Despite this, road injury, death and trauma should not be viewed as unavoidable. Injury and death can be prevented.
  3. To prevent injury and death on roads, the road system must be forgiving so that the forces of collisions do not exceed the limits that the human body can tolerate.

While these principles outline the philosophy underpinning the Safe System, the strategic approach to the system focuses on four core pillars: safer roads, safer speeds, safer vehicles and safer road users. Post-crash response is sometimes considered a fifth pillar.

Safer roads

The safer roads pillar focuses on ways to design, manage and maintain the road network to reduce the chances and severity of collision and injury. It includes not just roads, but roadsides, footpaths, bike paths and shared areas.

Safer speeds

Unsafe speeds increase the likelihood of collisions, as well as increasing their potential severity. The safer speed pillar focuses on assessing and managing speed limits and compliance with speed limits. It also includes the use of physical speed constraints (like speed bumps).

Safer vehicles

Vehicle safety features come in a variety of forms from seat belts and airbags through to intelligent crash avoidance systems.

Safe road users

This pillar includes road training and licensing, levels of compliance and the use of personal safety equipment. It applies to drivers and to vulnerable road users like cyclists and motorcyclists.

Post-crash response

Post-crash response can help to reduce the severity of a collision by providing emergency medical and rescue response, trauma care and injury rehabilitation. Efficient post-crash response services are vital for reducing incidences of road death and serious injury.

The Safe System Assessment

The Safe System Assessment (SSA) is designed to examine proposed infrastructure projects to ensure they align with the Safe System principles. The SSA will look for areas with a high risk of fatal and serious injury. It will then recommend design changes to reduce the risks and bring the project into line with the System.

An SSA should be carried out during the early stages of a project when design changes can be more easily implemented.

Any project submitted to VicRoads for consideration requires an SSA.

It’s worth noting that the SSA does not replace the need for a Road Safety Audit (RSA). Instead, the SSA and RSA should complement each other to maximise the safety outcomes of a project.

Who carries out the SSA?

Currently, there are no specific accreditation schemes for Safe System assessors. VicRoads recommends that the SSA team include a lead assessor with experience and knowledge of SSA processes and relevant experts with demonstrated competency in the project’s specific field. Experienced traffic control experts are invaluable when it comes to the SSA process.    

Who is responsible?

When it comes to road safety, ultimately there is a shared responsibility to ensure that all road users remain safe. Individual road users are expected to comply with road rules and regulations and behave in a safe manner. However, this is just one level of responsibility.

System managers – including governments, organisations that design and build the roads, traffic police and others – have a primary responsibility for ensuring that roads are properly funded, designed, built, maintained and regulated.

Other responsible entities include health professionals, emergency services providers, and road training and education providers.

At the corporate and business level, there is an expectation that employers will provide appropriate training, support and equipment for any employees using the road as part of their work.

The Australia Safe System approach to road safety is an integral part of the government’s Towards Zero road safety campaign aimed at reducing incidences of fatal and serious road traffic injuries.

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