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How to apply safe systems to road safety

The history of road networks is fascinating. From the earliest times routes connected settlements, allowing people to trade goods and build communities. The earliest engineered roads were built in the Iron Age, and by the 1400s London was the centre of a highly developed natural road system.

These facts help paint a vivid picture of how industry, commerce and living in the UK has changed, facilitated by ingenuity and invention. Fast forward to the mid-1950s and 'modern’ traffic was born, with the rapid development of the UK road network; a mix of rural, urban and motorway extending to over 262,000 miles. Between 1980 and 2005 traffic on our road network increased by 80 per cent while road capacity itself increased by just 10 per cent.

Then consider the human cost of these changes, and from a road safety perspective the number of people killed and seriously injured on the road network. It is startling to reflect that the fatality rate on UK roads actually increased in 2020. A shocking 1,460 people were killed at a time of 21st century travel with electric cars, real-time monitoring and NCAP ratings. And behind each of the 1,460 is a name, family, co-workers and communities with empty spaces in their lives.


Can we all play a part in road safety?

When drivers make mistakes on the road, they increase their vulnerability and pose greater risks to themselves and others. Even though the safe system recognises mistakes will be made, one pillar of the safe system is the safe road user, which focuses on what we as individuals can do to prevent deaths and serious fatalities. This is why education interventions play an important role, aiming to ensure that road users are risk-aware and behave appropriately to keep themselves safe on the road.
The recent Panorama programme, Britain's killer roads, highlighted a number of influencing factors behind the increase in the fatality rate on our roads. There is broad agreement that laws, policing and enforcement are very important factors and also that a lack of targeted investment in our road policing can be seen as a contributory factor.

Embedding a safe systems approach to tackle fatalities and serious injuries (KSIs) does however involve all of us. In the OSH world we recognise the regulatory requirement to have safe systems of work and the importance of people, equipment, materials and environment. We recognise that accidents and incidents have multiple factors and that drivers have to make risk-based decisions hundreds of times in each and every journey they take.

In road safety there is a bespoke safe system approach that we can all play a part in the delivery of. The following questions below can help us to reflect on the behaviour and choices we make in our everyday life and consider how our decision-making can influence the way we contribute to road safety:

  • Can we as drivers, whether for leisure or work, make better choices?
  • Are we as practitioners making sure that driving risks are managed as any other risk to our organisations?


By implementing the 3 Es – enforcement, engineering and education, we can play a beneficial part as road users to make the roads safer.

E for enforcement (through having management of occupational road risk policies in place and the regulatory enforcement that policing our roads brings) blended with the Es of engineering and education can help us to think about how performance improvement can be achieved.

At RoSPA, our roots in road safety (both influencing legislation and supporting our members who work on and use, the road network) can help affect change.

We recently welcomed the Government listening to our consultation submission and announcing the pause of all lane running on smart motorways. This shows clearly that data analysis and consultation works and the lessons are learnt for each and every road development scheme in the future.

We all expect that we can use well-designed, well-maintained roads that are safe for all our vehicles. Good transport planning and roads designed for all users, with effective road safety audits conducted by trained road safety engineers, must be considered in the same way as enforcement and education.

What can you do to support safe systems of road safety at work?

While this article focuses specifically on the safe road user, the safe system includes five pillars of action that all play a crucial part in road safety, which is illustrated in the above image. 

Whether your workers are pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists, or someone who drives or rides for work, there is little or no room for error. Each driver sitting behind a steering wheel has made a decision about their personal fitness to drive. Every day businesses and organisations make road safety-related decisions when checking in with drivers, undertaking vehicle checks and planning delivery routes.

For all drivers it is the simple steps that save lives: driving at a speed appropriate to the conditions; planning in a break after two hours of driving; wearing your seatbelt; and not drinking and driving. Each person reading this advice can proactively encourage these simple steps within an overall approach to managing driving risk, ensuring people return home safe to their families every day.

Our roads are a shared space, whether we live in cities, towns or rural areas, where we can drive, ride, cycle and walk. Understanding the layers of responsibility, whether personally or organisationally, to keep people safe on our roads is central to our success in humanising road safety. Focusing on the people and families behind the statistics we use to assess performance improvement must surely be the central vision as we go forward.

Driver Profiler

Our Driver Profiler allows you to review all your riders and drivers for work to see how safe they are on the road.
Find out more today, as getting your drivers to complete this 10-15 minute question set will allow you to understand which of your drivers is high risk, enabling you and your organisation to keep them and all other people safe and make your training budget go further.

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