Safe System

PACTS believes in safe transport for all.  PACTS’ vision is a safe transport system free from death and serious injury.

This should be achieved through:

  • investing in effective, targeted action in the transport system to protect against death and serious injury which is largely preventable;
  • implementing the best-practice Safe System approach which takes account of human error and tolerance to injury; and
  • aligning with public health, occupational health and safety, environmental and social justice objectives to maximise the benefits of cost-effective investment.”

Our priorities for road safety are available to download.


PACTS-Campaign-Priorities-201410131.pdf – Downloaded 3359 times – 510.35 KB


Transport Scotland (TS) produced on December 5 short animated videos explaining the 5 pillars of the Safe System. Link to the carousal of videos is attached hereThe Safe System – Scotland’s Road Safety Framework

The Safe System goal and strategy represents an ambitious safety performance level and current best practice safety culture in road safety. The approach has evolved over many years and derives most notably from the Swedish Vision Zero and Dutch Sustainable Safety strategies and the concepts and good practice in other fields. Safe System embraces well-established safety principles and building on demonstrably effective practice using innovative solutions and new technologies. It is being taken up increasingly in Europe, Australasia and North America at regional, national levels and city levels.

Source: Agilysis, 2022 (based on models by Commonwealth of Australia, 2022; Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety & Loughborough University, 2017; NZ Transport Agency, 2016; Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators, 2016

Safe System/Vision Zero goals

Safe System/Vision Zero has a long-term goal for a road traffic system which is eventually free from death and serious injury. It involves an important paradigm shift from trying to prevent all collisions to preventing death and mitigating serious injury in road traffic collisions, a problem which is largely preventable based on current knowledge. It is backed up by interim quantitative targets to reduce numbers of deaths and serious injuries usually over a 10 year period. In Safe System, there is also focus on targeting intermediate outcomes that are causally related to death and serious injury e.g. average speeds, seat belt use, sober driving, the safety quality of roads and vehicles and emergency medical system response.

Safe System principles

Safe System is based on the underlying principles that:

  • human beings make frequent mistakes that lead to road collisions;
  • the human body by nature has a limited ability to sustain collision forces with known tolerance to injury thresholds; and
  • it is a shared responsibility between stakeholders (road users, road managers, vehicle manufacturers, etc.) to take appropriate actions to ensure that road collisions do not lead to serious or fatal injuries.

Safe System intervention strategies

Safe System requires a systematic, multi-disciplinary and multi-sectoral approach which addresses the safety needs of all users; fatal and serious injury collision prevention, collision protection and mitigation and post-collision care and aligns with other policies for co-benefits such as health, occupational health and safety, sustainable development and poverty reduction. In a Safe System approach, mobility is a function of safety rather than vice versa. It involves the implementation of system-wide measures that ensure, in the event of a collision, that the impact forces remain below the threshold likely to produce either death or serious injury.

Safe System requires a proactive approach placing road safety in the mainstream of road traffic system planning, design and operation and use. Safe System interventions address common human errors and human tolerance to injury thresholds and in so doing aims to address the road safety needs of non-motorised as well as motorised road users, younger and older users, male and female users.

Safe System has five pillars of action:

  1. Safe Road Use;
  2. Safe vehicles;
  3. Safe speeds;
  4. Safe roads and roadsides;
  5. post-crash response.

The key demonstrably effective strategies are:

  • Encouraging use of safer modes and safer routes
  • Safety conscious planning and proactive safety engineering design
  • Safe separation or safe integration of mixed road use
  • Managing speeds to crash protection levels
  • Providing crash protective roadsides
  • Providing vehicles with collision avoidance and collision injury mitigation and protection
  • Deterring dangerous behaviour and ensuring compliance with key safety rules by social marketing and increased highly visible police enforcement and use of camera technologies and by providing proven driver assistance safety technologies in motor vehicles to help drivers keep to speed limits, wear seat belts, and avoid excess alcohol.
  • Managing risk via driver standards e.g. graduated driver licensing.
  • Fast and efficient emergency medical help, diagnosis and care.

Safe System is a shared responsibility

Safe System is a shared responsibility between government agencies at different levels and a range of multi-sectoral agencies and stakeholders (road managers, vehicle manufacturers, emergency medical system providers, safety rule compliance managers, employers, road users) to take appropriate actions to ensure that road collisions do not lead to serious or fatal injuries. Given this complex multi-agency and multi-sectoral context, it requires careful leadership by government and top management of organisations.

Safe System strategy implementation requires strengthened institutional delivery and identified good practice for all these functions is set out in two international publications produced by the World Bank and the OECD. Road safety management capacity review is recommended as an initial first step to provide a framework for all key agencies to assess strengths and weaknesses of current approaches and to identify next steps.

The UK Government has endorsed the Safe System approach in its British Road Safety Statement, December 2015.

This short film illustrates the Safe System approach in practice in New Zealand:

Useful References

Systra, Road Safety Management Capacity Review, independent report for the Department for Transport, May 2018

The Swedish Transport Administration, Road Safety: Vision Zero on the move

International Transport Forum 2016, Zero Road Deaths and Serious Injuries: Leading a Paradigm Shift in Road Safety  

Jeanne Breen, 23rd PACTS’ Westminster Lecture on Transport Safety: Managing for Ambitious Road Safety Results

Tony Bliss, 25th PACTS’ Westminster Lecture on Transport Safety: Road Safety in the 21st Century – public expectations of Government

PACTS Autumn 2015 Conference: Managing Road Safety – Safe System in practice on local and national roads

PACTS conference Aiming for Zero,  March 2012, adopted a resolution calling on the UK government to develop a British version of Vision Zero.

PIARC, Road Safety Manual: for practitioners and decision makers on implementing safe system infrastructure

Tingvall C (1995), The Zero Vision. In: van Holst, H., Nygren, A., Thord, R., eds Transportation, traffic safety and health: the new mobility. Proceedings of the 1st International Conference, Gothenburg, Sweden Berlin, Springer-Verlag, 1995:35–57.

OECD (2008) Towards Zero: Achieving Ambitious Road Safety Targets through a Safe System Approach. OECD, Paris

Global Road Safety Facility (GRSF) (2009), Implementing the Recommendations of the World Report on Road Traffic Injury Prevention. Country guidelines for the Conduct of Road Safety Management Capacity Reviews and the Specification of Lead Agency Reforms, Investment Strategies and Safe System Projects, World Bank, Washington DC.

SafetyCube Decision Support System