Road safety

A system at the service of road safety

In this opinion piece, the South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) Engineering for Road Safety leader and project manager for the Eastern Sanral region, covering KwaZulu-Natal and the Free State, Jason lowe written on the agency’s Safe System model.

As the December holiday season rolls around and traffic volumes peak, there is one thing all road safety players can agree on: It is simply unacceptable that South Africans are seriously injured or killed on our roads. It is also the premise at the heart of a best practice approach to road safety that has been adopted by road agencies around the world, including Sanral – the Safe System model.

The strength of the Safe System approach lies in its holistic view of the road transport system and in the emphasis on our shared responsibility for road safety. We shouldn’t just reduce traffic accidents to a “manageable” level – our goal should ultimately be to eliminate fatalities and serious injuries altogether. This can only be achieved if everyone – from road users and policy makers to transport planners, vehicle manufacturers, infrastructure designers and road agencies like Sanral – plays a role.

The dire statistics of road accidents in South Africa tell us that we are far from achieving this goal. About 832,000 accidents occur each year – 2,200 per day – and the annual number of road fatalities averages 14,000. The economic cost of road accidents in 2018 has been estimated at R142 billion. Thousands of economically active citizens, opinion leaders, athletes, cultural contributors, mothers, fathers and children lose their lives on the roads of our country.

The need for action is urgent – and the Safe System approach provides us with an effective framework to change the status quo through evidence-based and evidence-based interventions. Its principles are based on a large body of research in fields such as behavioral sciences, public health and the safety of organizational systems. By leveraging innovation in infrastructure and our growing understanding of the human factors that influence risky behavior, we can create a road network that protects lives and prevents injuries.

As the country’s national road agency, Sanral plays a vital role in the design, construction and maintenance of a road traffic system that works to reduce human error and minimize accidents.

Last year, the International Road Federation (IRF) officially recognized the agency’s efforts in road safety engineering and awarded Sanral the 2020 World Road Safety Award “Find a Way” at its conference “Vision Zero for Africa” (Vision Zero is a strategy to eliminate all road fatalities and serious injuries while increasing safe, healthy and equitable mobility for all). The IRF Award recognizes the Agency’s efforts to reduce serious and fatal accidents in South Africa and the Southern African Development Community region.

While many accidents on our roads are the result of risky behavior and traffic violations, others are caused by errors in perception and judgment. A road environment that guides user behavior, reduces the risk of errors and is more tolerant when mistakes are made can dramatically improve road safety outcomes.

An important pillar of the Safe System model is to ensure that the technical and design characteristics encourage vehicles to operate at safe and appropriate speeds. Evidence from around the world shows that the use of speed deterrents, speed cameras and various traffic calming measures can have a significant impact on safety.

A number of Sanral projects in recent years, such as improvements at various major intersections in Kimberley in the Northern Cape and improvements to the Moloto Highway that spans Gauteng, Mpumalanga and Limpopo, have incorporated measures to appeasement of speed. Installing roundabouts (also called roundabouts) in place of traditional intersections with traffic lights, for example, reduced approach speeds and the potential for high-speed collisions, while maintaining high levels. of mobility. Roundabouts are also less affected by power cuts and blackouts.

Other aspects of road safety engineering that have been prioritized in recent Sanral projects include widening and realigning roads to allow wider recovery areas and safer overtaking opportunities, while eliminating blind climbs to improve viewing distance and driver reaction times.

But the Safe System approach doesn’t just focus on driver safety – it also emphasizes vulnerable road users such as pedestrians, who account for between 35% and 40% of all road fatalities. in South Africa. This problem is particularly acute in rural and low-income areas. This is why Sanral favors infrastructures that improve accessibility and safety for pedestrians and increase their visibility, such as pedestrian sidewalks, level crossings, bridges and public lighting.

However, creating a road environment that takes human errors into account and mitigates them through smart design and engineering is not enough. To end fatalities and serious injuries on our roads, we need interventions that target the ways in which drivers and other road users interact with this environment. For that, we need a change in behavior.

The behavior of road users is an essential pillar of the Safe System approach. Behavioral issues such as distraction, drug addiction, and traffic violations – among drivers, pedestrians and other road users – all contribute to our road safety crisis. Behavior change interventions offer an important and often cost-effective way to address these problems. But to seize the opportunities for change, we need to better understand the complex factors that underlie individual behavior, and then design targeted, context-appropriate behavioral solutions.

The collection of data on the behavior of road users is essential to this process. Across the country, Sanral’s growing Freeway Management System (FMS) has played a role in this area by capturing valuable, real-time information that can help us optimize responses and direct resources where they need to be. are most needed. The Agency is also spearheading several research projects to better understand behavior in specific places and geographic areas. The results will inform future engineering interventions.

Such an intelligence and data-driven approach to road safety is essential, but we can unleash its full potential only through effective partnerships across all sectors of society. For Sanral, collaboration with law enforcement agencies is of particular importance.

It is also essential that we engage with researchers who have the skills to accurately collect and interpret data that can be used to inform our actions. By coordinating our efforts in this way, we can realize Sanral’s vision of better and safer roads for all.