The main difference between roads and the other transport modes, is that most road vehicle drivers are not professionals, not having received heavy training and not following the very high and strict behaviour standards of the professional drivers and pilots of all the other transport modes. Furthermore, the road environment, especially in urban areas, is much more complex than the railways, waterborne and air routes. Consequently, both the problems and the respective remedial measures for road safety present focused attention and particularities, which usually cannot be addressed by best practice in the other modes.
Even though everybody agrees with the principle of vision zero road fatalities, most European countries and organisations concentrate to setting targets and putting serious efforts for halving the fatalities in the decade up to 2020, as a first step towards vision zero. Especially, in countries with less resources, prioritizing road safety interventions is the only way to optimize the effectiveness of all efforts and investments, particularly during the economic crisis period.
The use of numerical targets for reducing road fatalities was proved very efficient in all cases, creating momentum to all road safety stakeholders, including the authorities, the industry, the associations and the road users, especially for countries with less resources and organisation. Furthermore, setting targets leads not only to higher accountability of the authorities, but also to more serious efforts taking into account the effectiveness evaluation of the road safety interventions implemented. Similarly, the use of targets for serious road injuries will certainly bring added momentum and increased results for the reduction of injury accidents.
It is very important to intensify efforts at national and European level, in order to dispose the necessary data on serious injuries, comparable with the agreed common definition of MAIS3+, in order to better support the setting and monitoring such a target at EU level. However, in the meantime, setting as target the reduction by 50% of serious injuries in every country, with the existing not common national definitions, could certainly be a very useful first step. In fact, setting targets is mainly a necessary management tool to create momentum for more serious work, which worth adopting and exploiting the soonest possible, even without all the appropriate data.
Very often we look where the data are and not where the problems are, especially at the complex road and traffic environment of cities. Consequently, European and international organisations should set and promote the appropriate common standard and best practice for the collection, processing and analysis of the appropriate road safety data, with special emphasis to the necessary data for risk exposure data (traffic) and performance indicators (driver behaviour and authorities performance). In addition, they should establish serious funding mechanisms to support the collection and processing of the necessary data, as well as the systematic monitoring of road safety level at local, regional, national and European level, including the transparent publication of all results.
Special attention should be given to reliable and comparable road safety data at city level (including traffic, travel and behaviour patterns), aiming to identify the real size of the safety problems in the city and allowing for exchange of experience and benchmarking of best practice. The IRTAD global initiative on Safer City Streets has a great potential in this direction.
Lately, the Internet of Things brings a wealth of automatically collected data from the road users, the vehicles and the road infrastructure, which might be proved very useful for supporting not only the decision making process at all levels, but also real-time choices and behaviour of drivers and the other road users. When technical and ethical barriers for the collection and processing of massive everyday big data (in terms of quantity, time and variability) will be overcame, then highly important benefit for road safety might arise.
The long term goal to which all road safety stakeholders should strive is the development of a strong road safety culture in the European society. All European decision makers and citizens should realise that safer roads means no speeding and no aggressive driving as well as drink-free and undistracted driving and continuous use of seat belts and helmets. On that purpose, the safe system approach has a great potential to contribute, under which anyone involved in road safety decisions is considered responsible for the road accidents and should re-engineer its duties in order to avoid them.
Contribution at the POLIS Magazine: Thinking Cities – Understanding the Intelligent City, Brussels, November 2015