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Tuesday , 14 May 2024

‘Safe System’ approach to Road safety

According to the most recent World Bank report, road safety management in India could improve with an inclusive approach. The report recommended a stronger emphasis on institutional ownership of the problem, accountability for safety, safer infrastructure, a regulatory framework that demands greater vehicle safety for all road users, targeted enforcement of unsafe road user behaviors, and improved post-crash health services, writes Dr. Kohinoor Kar, P.E., PTOE, Faculty Associate, Department of Civil Engineering, Arizona State University.

The guiding principles underlying “Decade of Action plan for Road safety 2011-2020” follow the safe system approach that aims to develop a roadway system that can better accommodate human errors and the vulnerability of the road users. This concept accepts the fact that there are human errors when using roadway facilities and that traffic crashes cannot be completely avoided. The goal of a safe system is to ensure that crashes, if occurs, do not result in deaths or serious injuries of human beings involved. The basic premises consider human limitations – what the human body can stand in terms of kinetic energy – based on which road systems are designed, and other components, like environment and vehicle are to be harmonized.

High Level Recommendations

A Government of India’s committee on road safety and traffic management had published a report that contained some useful recommendations. Since then, rapid expansions of roadway and related infrastructures took place across
the country.

The issue of road safety has been researched in depth from various angles, and the common finding involves the key factor, i.e., road user behavior. Road safety is not dependent solely on roadway infrastructure inadequacies. A holistic approach, commonly called 4E, requires a good balance of engineering, education, enforcement, and emergency response. Road users including drivers, pedestrians, cyclists and all others on public transportation facilities play a significant role. Multiple agencies with different skill sets need to work together to achieve a common goal of reducing fatalities and serious injuries from road traffic crashes.

There are various proven tools and methods being used in countries like the United States, Europe, Australia, and others. Road Safety Audit (RSA) has been increasingly successful and popular. In case of rural highways with relatively lower traffic volume and higher operating speeds, there is significant amount of problems involving vehicles running off the road and overturning or hitting fixed objects resulting in severe crashes. During highway design process, some of the decisions can be made better with human factors analysis and certain proactive measures.

The US Department of Transportation recently developed a National Roadway Safety Strategy that emphasizes on safe system approach. This includes five elements, i.e., safer people, safer roads, safer vehicles, safer speeds, and post-crash care. The approach differs significantly from conventional safety approach – it acknowledges both human mistakes and human vulnerability, and designs a redundant system to protect everyone. This approach is very well aligned with the World Bank recommendation and can be implemented in India where newer developments in infrastructures are happening rapidly.

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