Fact sheet: Vision zero and the safe system

Australian governments have committed to a vision of zero road crash deaths and serious injuries by 2050.

Safe system and Vision Zero are consistent with the approaches adopted by the safest countries in the world and are in step with the United Nations current approach to global road safety through its Sustainable Development Goals and the second Decade of Action on Road Safety.

Vision Zero is a principle that no one should be killed or seriously injured using the road networks. Its adoption is a commitment to a road transport system that does not kill or seriously injure people.

This means creating a system where the system designers and operators—engineers, planners, lawmakers, road authorities, decision-makers and police officers—share responsibility with the road users for designing a road system that does not allow human error to have a serious or fatal outcome.

The 2050 Vision Zero statement represents a stronger commitment to the safe system approach previously adopted during the period of the 2001‑2010 national strategy through the National Road Safety Action Plans, as well as the strategies of individual states and territories.

The guiding principles behind this approach are:

  • People make mistakes. A mistake should not cost anyone’s life or health.
  • Physics determine the known limits to the amount of force our bodies can take. When a crash occurs (and they will continue to occur because people make mistakes), all the elements within the safe system should  work together to ensure the forces created in the crash do not exceed the physical limits of our bodies and result in a fatal or serious injury.

How is this done?

The safe system approach means ensuring that all the elements of the road transport system work together to prevent crashes or limit crash forces, making them survivable and reducing the severity of injury. While all states and territories have adopted the safe system approach, at present we have a legacy system which does not always work this way and requires transformation, prioritising areas of highest risk. Roads and vehicles should be designed to limit crash forces to levels that are within human tolerance.

What is the system we are talking about?

When we talk about a ‘system’ that does not kill or seriously injure, this is not just about the road network. Road transport is a complex system in which people, vehicles and road infrastructure interact. A safe system approach ensures they interact in a way that creates a high level of safety, by anticipating and accommodating human errors. Safe system means looking as broadly as possible at all the elements that influence crashes:

  • ROADS AND ROADSIDES
  • SPEED
  • VEHICLES AND VEHICLE MIX
  • FUNCTION OF THE ROAD
  • ROAD USERS
  • PLANNING

It means looking at how these elements interact and can work together to protect all road users. In taking a system approach we also commit to the proactive improvement of roads and vehicles so that the entire system is made safe, rather than just locations or situations where crashes last occurred.

In all crashes, speed is a key element that determines the forces that injure people. Speed management is key to improving the interaction of all three parts of the road transport system. Speed, whether it is driving at a speed inappropriate for the prevailing conditions or driving at a speed over the limit, contributes to the risk of crashes and their severity. Even if the speed of the vehicle was within the posted speed limit and not considered the cause of a crash, the kinetic energy transfer impacts the severity of the injury.

Shared responsibility

Importantly, the safe system approach seeks to recognise the responsibility shared by all contributors to the elements of the system. There is a responsibility to collectively manage all inputs so that the likelihood of a crash is minimised. The responsibility also continues so that when a crash occurs, every attempt is made to minimise the likelihood that it results in a fatal or serious injury. Remedies should be sought throughout the system, in addition to road users being responsible for their behaviour.

By ’contributors’ we mean not only people who plan, design and build roads or vehicles, but anyone whose actions can influence road trauma, including road managers, vehicle manufacturers, legislators, commercial transport operators, police, employers, and of course individual road users.