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The Safe System - Are we on the wrong track and falling at the first hurdle?

Mackenzie, P


ACRS conference 2011

We all make Mistakes. One of mine was thinking I could cram a book-length topic into this 15 minute talk. So I hope this chopped and cropped melange of information still makes sense, even without the interesting case studies and quotes that I had hoped to include.

The title of this paper is fairly bold, and certainly at odds with the more optimistic “Making it Happen” theme of this conference. In straightforward terms, the evidence I have amassed with help from a very large number of people, tells me that the road we are on is not the way to a 'Safe System' of road use by 2020 or even 2030.

I believe that by 2020, the final year of the new National Road Safety Strategy that is underpinned by the 'Safe System' approach, short of something near miraculous happening, we will have failed numerous people who suffer death, injury and grief because we are not doing all of what we should and could be doing for safer road use.

It's a fair question to ask, how can this be? Everyone at this conference, and many others are undoubtedly committed to reducing road trauma, and authorities continue to remind us that we have reduced road fatalities to the lowest levels in more than half a century.

But we began from such a low baseline, a very 'unsafe system' with poor roads, unsafe vehicles, poor driver behaviour, and inadequate safety management, with a massive task ahead in trying to minimise the scourge of road trauma. In more recent years, gains have slowed significantly, and we are struggling in particular to reduce serious injury.

This kind of duality, resonates through the whole story of road safety, with great tension between a complexity of competing, and at times conflicting priorities from both within the road safety domain, and from external factors that combine to significantly influence, restrict and in various ways, undermine road safety efforts.