According to a report by a consortium of experts, a new approach to road safety based on design and engineering principles – the ‘Safe System’ approach – could lead to dramatic reductions in road traffic fatalities and injuries. vehicles if implemented in the United States. organized by researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Institute of Transportation Engineers.
The Safe System approach designs road systems so that they are safe when used intuitively, as people tend to use them. A safe system minimizes the risk of errors by drivers, pedestrians and cyclists, and reduces the intensity of collisions when they occur. This approach – which may include the use of roundabouts, separate cycle lanes, rough lanes and other measures – has already been successfully applied in several other countries. In Sweden, where the approach was first implemented, road fatalities decreased by around 67% between 1990 and 2017.
The authors of the report argue that the safe systems approach can improve equity in road safety if it is implemented in a way that narrows the safety gap between well-served and historically underserved communities.
According to the National Safety Council, road fatalities increased by 8% last year compared to the previous year, even though people drove much less, with around 42,000 fatalities in road accidents and 4.8 million injured. Since 2009, the road fatality rate has remained relatively stable at around 11 deaths per 100,000 population, and accidents have remained the leading cause of death among young people. The road fatality rate in the United States fell sharply between the 1960s and 1990s, in large part due to the auto safety revolution.
The report, “Consortium’s Recommendations for a Safe System,” was released on May 11. The Safe System Consortium, a group of more than two dozen leading engineers, scientists and public health professionals, met earlier this year to rethink road safety and fairness in this country, while a new presidential administration has been put in place.
“With this report, we encourage policymakers to embrace what would be a paradigm shift in the approach to road safety in the United States, with the potential to dramatically reduce the vehicle-related injuries and fatalities that we see on a daily basis. Says co-author Shannon Frattaroli, PhD, associate professor in the Bloomberg School’s Department of Health Policy and Management and director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy.
“We see the Safe System approach as a way to build safety into the road system – making safety natural and intuitive for those who use the roads, so the safest way to drive or walk is the way. safest, ”says co-author Jeffrey Michael, EdD, a former senior official with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration who is now a Distinguished Researcher in the Department of Health Policy and Management and Leon S Chair Robertson of Faculty Development in Injury Prevention at Bloomberg School. .
The traditional road safety strategy in the United States, the authors note, places much of the burden of responsibility on the people who drive, walk or cycle on the roads. In contrast, the safe system approach is designed to place a greater burden on the design of roads and vehicles.
“[N]Human errors of judgment or diligence are expected, and the roads are configured so that such errors do not result in death or serious injury, “the co-authors write.” Even with a design forgiving, crashes will occur in a safe system, so roads are designed to limit collision forces to survivable levels. “
Specific design changes in a safe system include:
- Lane reductions, on some multi-lane roads where pedestrians and cyclists are present, which help slow vehicles down and give drivers more time to react
- Flashing beacons that alert drivers to crosswalks
- Roundabouts that slow traffic at dangerous intersections and prevent fatal side impact collisions
- Median barriers which, when used on some separate rural roads, reduce head-on collisions
As the authors of the report note, studies of Safe System measures indicate that they lead to dramatic reductions in the number of road fatalities – for example, an approximately 80% reduction in severe crashes after installation. roundabouts and a 97% reduction in energy, frontal collisions with median barriers.
Overall, the safe system approach has been associated with substantial reductions in the number of traffic deaths. Countries that adopted this approach in the 1990s show a sharp drop in deaths between 1990 and 2017 – with a reduction of 47% in Australia, 48% in New Zealand, 80% in Spain and 67% in Sweden .
One of the Biden administration’s clearest priorities is to correct a history of underinvestment in road safety in communities of color, and the authors recommend using the safe systems approach to do so.
“Some communities currently have far more than their share of exposure to traffic hazards, due to larger arteries that run through their neighborhoods, for example, and / or fewer safety measures,” says Michael. “This is how our transportation system has developed over the years – but now we have the opportunity to change our approach.”
The report’s recommendations include requiring that safe system principles be followed when federal funds are used for the design and operation of roads, and the establishment of special programs to implement safe system measures in the country. historically underserved communities.