Traffic management

Table of Contents

2.2 Traffic Operations and the Safe System

The Safe System is an approach to road safety that is the basis of strategies and action plans to reduce road trauma in Australia and New Zealand. Ultimately the aim is to eliminate deaths and serious injuries resulting from crashes on the road network.

The Safe System approach is based on the following principles:

  • People make mistakes – some crashes are unavoidable despite a focus on preventative measures.
  • Our bodies are vulnerable – There are limits to the amount of force our bodies can tolerate before we are injured. In a Safe System, when a crash occurs the forces are managed so that they do not lead to death or serious injury.
  • Road safety is a shared responsibility – This includes those involved in the planning, design, operation and management of the road system, in addition to all road users.

As the name suggests, the Safe System is a systems approach which recognises that the components are interrelated and must work together to achieve the desired goals. The four elements or pillars of a Safe System are:

  • Safe roads and roadsides – Roads should be designed, operated and maintained so that they are predictable, self-explaining and encourage safe travel speeds. When a crash occurs, they should be forgiving to ensure that the likelihood of death or serious injury is minimised.
  • Safe speeds – Operating speeds should be managed so that crash likelihood is low and, in the event of a crash, the impact forces are within human tolerances.
  • Safe vehicles – Vehicles should incorporate design features and technology that minimise the likelihood of crashes and protect road users (including pedestrians and cyclists) when crashes do occur.
  • Safe road users – All users should be alert, comply with road rules and engage in safe behaviour. They are supported through education, information, enforcement of road rules, training and licensing.

Operating the road network in a safe manner is a key responsibility of road agencies under the Safe System. Historically, there has been a mindset that transport mobility and road safety are competing objectives and that there is a need to trade off one against the other. The contemporary approach is to strive for safe mobility. While this may seem to present significant challenges to road agencies that have to manage multiple objectives, efficiency of movement and safety are interrelated. Incidents, particularly severe crashes that may result in injuries or death, can have major consequences and will quickly erode any efficiency benefits that might be gained by operating the network at a higher level of safety risk. There are also opportunities for new and innovative ways of operating the road network that have both efficiency and safety benefits. Intelligent transport technologies, in particular, are critical tools that are being increasingly utilised to move towards safe mobility.

Consideration of the Safe System (as represented by Figure 2.1) shows that traffic operations have direct links to all four pillars. Linkages to the Safe System and appropriate safety considerations are discussed throughout this Guide.

Figure 2.1: Holistic approach to achieving the Safe System vision

The Safe System aims to eliminate deaths and serious injuries resulting from crashes on the road network. The four pillars of the system are safe roads and roadsides, safe speeds, safe vehicles and safe road users.

Source: based on Australian Transport Council (2008), Ministry of Transport (2010) and Office of Road Safety (2009).