Vision Zero for system designers

Vision Zero challenges anyone who influences road safety to change the way we think about road safety and the way we work together to keep everyone safe.  

This includes those who work in the system, often called ‘system designers’, which is a broad concept and includes anyone who influences road safety in their work – such as: 

  • central and local government
  • planners, engineers, and policy makers
  • enforcement officers
  • educators and employers
  • vehicle importers, suppliers, fleet managers
  • insurers and the media. 

As system designers we all need to identify what we can do in our jobs to make our road system more forgiving. We need to look beyond the driver and identify and address all the causes of harm on our roads. 

The Safe System approach asks everyone to be responsible and play their part. It recognises the need for all system designers and system users to share responsibility for keeping themselves and others safe. 

Scandinavian research shows that even if all road users complied with road rules, fatalities would only fall by around 50 percent and injuries by 30 percent. This is supported by recent South Australian research. Quite simply we are human and will still make mistakes.

Recent New Zealand research found that in 75 percent of serious injury crashes and 50 percent of fatal crashes, drivers had generally followed the road rules.  

The Safe System approach works on the principle that when people do make mistakes, it is not acceptable for anyone to be killed or seriously injured. 

The Safe System is the gold standard in road safety and underpins Road to Zero, New Zealand’s road safety strategy

The Safe System principles are:  

  • We promote good choices but plan for mistakes.
  • We design for human vulnerability.
  • We strengthen all parts of the road transport system.
  • We have a shared responsibility. 

A mind-set shift 

A move to a Safe System way of thinking requires a mind-set shift from historical, outdated views of road safety.  

We must re-programme how we design the system and reframe the conversation in these ways: 

From traditional thinking... To Safe System thinking...

Some deaths are inevitable 

It was accepted that some road deaths would still occur, and as long as some improvements were being made, this was seen as enough. 

Road deaths are preventable 

We know road deaths are preventable. The status quo is no longer acceptable. By taking a system approach we can drastically reduce the level of harm on our roads. 

Rely on perfect human behaviour 

Traditionally the blame was on the person, for not behaving perfectly or making a bad decision. 

Human error was used as an excuse for inaction. Effort was focused on improving driver behaviour rather than wider system solutions. 

Plan and design for mistakes, people are fallible and vulnerable  
A forgiving transport network is core to the Safe System. Death and serious injury should not occur as a result of people making mistakes.  

People need to take responsibility 

The focus was on driver education to address road user error which consequently lowered the responsibility of system designers. 

Road safety is a shared responsibility between road users, designers and managers 

System designers share the responsibility for safe travel outcomes by accommodating people errors.  

Focus on preventing all crashes  Focus on preventing deaths and serious injuries from crashes 
Designing roads for vehicles to travel through  Designing for all people and all mode types 
Reactive to serious crashes  Proactive, evidence-based approach to building a safe road system