IBI Group investigates a Safe Systems approach to Road Safety on behalf of the RSA

The Road Safety Authority (RSA) is tasked with improving safety on Irish roads in order to reduce death and injury resulting from road collisions.   The RSA brings together key elements of road safety including; driver education, road safety promotion, driver testing, driver licensing, vehicle standards, research, road haulage etc.

Up until the turn of the last decade, Ireland’s road safety record was not particularly impressive when compared with other European countries. However, concerted efforts by the RSA and other government agencies in the field of road safety have resulted in a 41% reduction in the number of road deaths since 2001 with a 14% reduction in 2009 alone. This has culminated in Ireland receiving the European Transport Safety Council’s Road Safety Performance Index award for 2010. The challenge now facing the RSA is how to build on these improvements and continue the momentum established.

Countries such as Sweden, Netherlands, Australia, UK and Switzerland in recent years have seen a slowdown in the reduction of road casualties. In an effort to counteract this trend they have to varying degrees moved towards approaches based on the premise that the road users, the road environment and the vehicles are a “system” and need to be treated as such.  This “safe systems” approach believes that no road traffic fatality is acceptable and leads to the vision of zero road fatalities.  The approach recognises that road users are fallible and crashes will occur and places the responsibility for a safe system on the designers.  The responsibility of the user is to comply with the rules governing the system.  The Road Safety Authority therefore has commissioned IBI Group to undertake a Review of the Safe Systems Strategic Approach to Road Safety within an Irish Context.

Safe systems are a culmination of three distinct areas of road safety, safer vehicles, safer infrastructure and safer drivers. For each aspect of the safe systems approach a comprehensive review is taken of the design and safety interfaces. ITS in particular can play a big part in providing the glue to stick these aspects together providing accurate analysis of the road network, a contribution to better management of vehicles and informing drivers about unsafe behavioural characteristics.The safe systems approach states that interventions must be designed to meet long-term targets rather than perform a limiting function on what can be achieved which is the reality at present. Consequently, a new set of innovative policies will need to be developed alongside changes to the political and public consciousness surrounding road safety if Ireland is to adopt a safe systems approach in the future.