Road Safety and Your working culture

So, who is responsible for keeping us all safe on the roads?

The obvious answer is ‘everyone,’ but who holds the statutory legal responsibility for road safety? The police? Highways authorities? Central government?

As you might imagine, it’s a complicated picture. Let's have a look at this from the perspective of one country to start with to demonstrate the complexity - England. Your local highways authority (county or unitary council) holds the legal responsibility under section 39 of the 1988 Road Traffic Act, to “take steps both to reduce and prevent accidents”.

They don’t tackle this alone. Highways England look after the Strategic Route Network. The various Police Forces enforce and educate Road Traffic Law, the Driver & Vehicle Standards Agency check on driver and vehicle standards, and even Fire & Rescue teams have joined the fray.

There are many more bodies involved in keeping us all safe, which leads to a risk of us all tripping over each other.

 

Many years ago, my local radio station played three different road safety adverts in one ad break; at that point, we thought it might be a good idea to start working in partnership to coordinate our messages.

Over time Road Safety Partnerships have become the local focus of activity, spreading national messages and working with their communities to reduce casualties.

If you’re reading this, I guess you drive for work or manage people that do, so you may be asking ‘where do I fit in with this?’

Let’s start at the top. Recently the United Nations General Assembly has approved a second UN Decade of Action for Road Safety, to 2030, reaffirming commitment to the road safety target to halve road traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030. Now, that’s an ambitious target!

The roads are safer than they ever have been, but our rate of progress in reducing casualties has slowed in recent years.

 

We have already reaped the benefits of technology that is now in everyday use, such as seat belts, ABS and airbags.

Plus financial support from governments have significantly reduced in the last decade, so lately things have not been improving as we would like.

If we are going to make this work, we need to work smarter, not harder. The current thinking is that something called the Safe Systems approach will achieve the best results.

The Safe Systems Approach

So, how does it work? Adopting a Safe System starts with accepting the validity of a simple ethical imperative: No human being should be killed or seriously injured as the result of a road crash, which we call Vision Zero. There are four principles which are central to a Safe System:

People make mistakes that can lead to road collisions.
  1. The human body has a known, limited physical ability to tolerate collision forces before harm occurs.
  2. While individuals have a responsibility to act with care and within traffic laws, a shared responsibility exists with those who design, build, manage and use roads and vehicles to prevent collisions resulting in serious injury or death and to provide post-collision care.
  3. All parts of the system must be strengthened in combination to multiply their effects, and road users are still protected if one part fails.

So, we can’t treat one aspect of the system alone; it’s not just about driver training, or potholes, or tyre defects; it is a much bigger picture. What can we do then? The Safe System requires a systematic, multi-disciplinary and multi-sectoral approach to address the safety needs of all users.

It needs a proactive strategy which places road safety in the centre of road traffic system planning, design, operation and use. There are five components for action:

  • Safe People
  • Safe Vehicles
  • Safe Speeds
  • Safe Roads and Roadsides
  • Post-collision response

The Safe Systems approach is mandated by the UN and has been adopted by some Governments like the United Kingdom. The more progressive Road Safety Partnerships are also embracing this approach and signing up to Vision Zero.

We are late to the game though; this has been happening in the Scandinavian countries and Australia & New Zealand for a while. So, going back to our earlier question, maybe you can see where your activities start to fit into the road safety world.

If I were working with your company to review your Driving for Work policy, I would be looking at three major operational aspects: the driver, the vehicle, and the journey.

It’s easy to see that those headings fit across all of the Safe Systems components, which is how it should be. Your policy should cover all aspects and risks associated with the task of using the road network, essentially a smaller Safe Systems process.

On a day to day level, adopting something like the BrightMile app is contributing to the road safety picture by directly addressing Safe People, Vehicles and Speeds, but is there anything else you should be doing?

I have a suggestion. Think about your working culture. Is there scope to bring the Vision Zero concept into your workplace and nail those colours to your mast? In time the organisations around you will start talking about it; they will write strategies, offer products, hold enforcement events, so why not be part of it from the beginning?

If you are managing people, it shows that you care about them and the people they meet on the roads. If you are driving for work, it demonstrates a level of responsibility and commitment that others may not show. Most of all, it will contribute to a much larger picture.

We are a long way from Vision Zero, we may never get there, but last year in England 1,870 people never went home again after an incident on our roads. Around a third of those were working at the time. It is unnecessary. It is avoidable.

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