“Safe System – making it real”
PACTS, like all right-thinking road safety organisations, endorses the Safe System. It is now backed by the United Nations, the WHO Road Safety 2020 Expert Group, Transport Scotland, a growing number of UK local authorities and many others.
Safe System usually starts with Vision Zero (a long-term goal that nobody should be killed or suffer life-changing injury on the roads), a set of principles (that safety should override other transport criteria) and involves all main interventions available to road safety practitioners (often classified under five or six pillars). Some might say that the Vision Zero is a moral position while the Safe System is the means of delivery; but they tend to go together and it’s probably not worth splitting hairs here.
I would say it is almost impossible to argue with the Safe System. If you’re setting a vision, what other vision could you possibly adopt than zero? (You would hardly set a vision of “not many”.) If you want a strategy to deliver it, of course you would involve all possible partners, use all the tools at your disposal, and broke no compromise.
But the real world is not so simple. Resources are finite, and other policy pressures and politics will crowd in. Can one really stick to the absolute principle of designing and managing so that no death or life-changing injury can result? Without question we can do better but have we seen Safe System tested in the heat of battle? We need to hear from transport authorities which have genuinely ditched the bad old ways and embraced Safe System. Was it really possible to resist the public clamour for action at “accident hotspots” and the demands of local politicians, and to deliver different schemes and interventions? Have they delivered significantly better results? If so, how was this measured and achieved? What were the key success factors and the bear traps? Can it be done with the same resources or is it about spending more?
Then there are divisions within the experts. Some Safe System practitioners believe that getting the public on board is absolutely crucial: road safety will only succeed if it is done with people, not to people. But there are others who stress that is about engineering and technology (roads and vehicles), and that education and training are of little benefit.
These things need to be investigated in the UK context. If like me you think the Safe System is the way forward but that it still needs explanation and development, particularly at local level, then join PACTS for a virtual conference Safe System: from principles to practice on 17th March. Hear from academics, practitioners and others, and contribute your experiences, views and questions. The good news is that practical ways forwards are emerging.
David Davies, PACTS Executive Director