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Chapter 2: A Systems Approach to Safety Benefits Older Road Users

A systems approach to safety involves users, roads and roadsides, and vehicles. This philosophy aims to improve safety by addressing each of these components of the transportation system. Figure 2 illustrates the systems approach adopted by VicRoads in Australia. This multiple–perspective approach has been successful because it reduces driver error through education, enforcement, and road design while at the same time reducing the health impacts of crashes when they do occur by improving vehicle safety and building more forgivable roadsides.

As mentioned earlier, the ages of road users in Australia and Japan are similar to those in the United States. Both countries focus on the frailty of older road users. Nearly all of the agencies visited had a general aim of keeping older people in vehicles as long as possible to prevent them from moving to a much more vulnerable class of road user — pedestrian. This guiding principle could be viewed as being at odds with concerns about the risk older drivers pose to themselves and other road users of all ages because of diminishing perceptual, physical, and cognitive abilities. In many sessions, however, the scan team's hosts presented the argument that the older road user's risk of injury and death is much greater as a pedestrian than as the operator of or as a passenger in a vehicle. For this public health benefit, officials in Australia and Japan try to keep older people driving as long as they can safely do so. This attitude leads to programs to help drivers, their families, and medical professionals assess fitness to drive and policies that favor license limitations based on driving needs and ability before complete license revocation. A lack of transit alternatives and capacity will also cause people to stay in their cars longer.

Illustration of a systems approach to safety from VicRoads Arrive Alive! The illustration consists of layers of boxes. At the top is a box reading 'Arrive Alive 2008–2017: Reduce road trauma by 30 percent.' The box underneath reads 'Safe system aims to reduce the number of crashes and, should a crash occur, reduce the severity of injury by the management of crash forces to survivable levels through the interaction of safer speeds, safer roads and roadsides, and safer vehicles.' The next layer is a box with sections reading 'safer users: comply with speed limits, comply with road rules, wearing seatbelts and helmets, not affected by alcohol, drugs, or fatigue;' 'safer roads and roadsides: speed limits to match infrastructures, roads and roadsides designed to highest safety standards practicable;' and 'safer vehicles: vehicles manufactured featuring high standard safety features.' This is flanked by boxes reading 'admittance to system (driver licensing),' 'understanding crashes and risks,' 'education and information supporting road users,' and 'enforcement of road rules.' The bottom three layers are boxes reading 'coordinated delivery approach,' 'action plans,' and 'reduced risk of being killed or seriously injured.'
Figure 2. Illustration of a systems approach to safety from VicRoads' Arrive Alive!

Photo of automated speed enforcement warning sign.
Figure 3. Automated speed enforcement warning sign in Sydney, Australia.

Another consequence of this focus on frailty is an emphasis on reducing crash severity, not just crash frequency. The performance metrics the Australian agencies use combine fatal and severe injury crashes into a single "road tolls" category. These agencies recognize that reducing severity includes making changes in vehicle and roadside safety, in addition to roadway design and operations. The focus of crash reduction is not just eliminating fatalities, but rather reducing the severity of all crashes. The main operational change used to reduce crash severity is lowering vehicle speeds. Reducing speed especially benefits older road users because of their frailty. Throughout Australia, the general focus was on speed reduction to improve outcomes for both vehicle-vehicle crashes and vehicle–pedestrian crashes. Both New South Wales and Victoria widely use automated speed enforcement (i.e., speed cameras) in an effort to curtail speed–related injuries (see figure 3). In addition to automated enforcement, legislatively mandated speed limits are imposed in areas with high pedestrian traffic. These include schools, shopping districts, and entertainment precincts (see figure 4). Reducing speeds also allows more time for older drivers and pedestrians to react to events. This is important for older road users because response times, on average, tend to increase with age.

A theme running through road safety programs in each Australian state was that addressing fragility involves more than focusing exclusively on driver and pedestrian behavior. The focus needs to be on vehicle and roadside safety as well. The rationale for this perspective is that since road users will continue to make errors, road safety programs should attempt to minimize the consequences of those errors. One way to minimize the consequences of driver error is to provide more forgiving roadsides by eliminating pavement edge dropoffs, providing flatter cross-slopes, and installing roadside safety devices such as guardrails. Roadside safety approaches such as these were observed in both countries the scan team visited.

On the vehicle safety side, one example of this systems approach is the current evaluation of vehicle crashworthiness standards in the state of Victoria and a consideration of test parameters specific to older occupant injury types. Other vehicle safety programs are aimed specifically at older drivers. Transportation agencies, as well as other community groups, have developed educational materials to explain optional vehicle safety equipment to a mature audience.

Photo of reduced speed zone in high-pedestrian traffic area.
Figure 4. Reduced speed zone in high-pedestrian traffic area in Brisbane, Australia. Similar speed zones exist in other Australian states for shopping districts and school zones.

The systems approach allows agencies to address safety issues with a multidisciplinary approach. This allows comparisons of the effectiveness of these different approaches. One opinion the team heard repeatedly in Australia was that engineering solutions hold more promise than education for improving safety. This tenet was expressed at every agency and university the team visited in Australia. Research at Queensland University of Technology showed that errors made by older drivers in at-fault crashes were errors in judgment, not errors of risk estimation as seen with younger drivers. For instance, older drivers are more likely to judge inaccurately the speed of oncoming vehicles while turning at intersections, leading to poor gap selections, while younger drivers are able to judge the speed accurately but take higher risk gaps because they believe they can make it through the intersection in time. (14) Engineering solutions to common errors of older road users include protected turn phases at signalized intersections and curbside fencing to route pedestrians to actuated midblock crosswalks. What these engineering treatments have in common is that they remove the go/no-go decision from the driver or pedestrian. The infrastructure tells the user when it is safe to proceed into a dangerous conflict point, such as an intersection.

Both countries used research, conducted in their own countries or abroad, to support their policy decisions. The research was often used to quantify the safety or mobility benefit of a program or policy. The implementing agencies then calculated the costs associated with the programs and used this benefit-cost ratio to set priorities and policy. All agencies visited also used the research as support against political or popular pressure to change policies and practices.

Strategic Safety Plans

Initiatives for older road users must be viewed in the context of the agency's overall road safety plan. The Australian states the scan team visited, in particular, had clearly articulated strategic road safety plans. These plans were comprehensive and included measurable goals and evaluation plans. Each plan touched on issues specific to older road user safety, but recognized that overall road safety improvements would benefit all users. Figure 5 illustrates two of the documents pertaining to the strategic safety plans. A previous FHWA/AASHTO scanning study examined the state of Victoria's safety plan in detail. (15)

On a national level, the Australian Transport Council launched the National Road Safety Strategy 2001–2010 plan. The council is made up of member organizations, including state and federal government agencies, insurance companies, automobile clubs, and user groups. (16) The plan is implemented primarily by state and local governments. The goal of the plan is to reduce the fatality rate from 9.3 per 100,000 people in 1999 to 5.6 by 2010.

The department of transportation in the Australian state of New South Wales is the Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA). This agency oversees all roadway construction, maintenance, and operation for the state. In addition, this agency handles vehicle and driver licensing. The state government is implementing its Safer Roads Priority Development Plan, which called for the creation of a Centre for Road Safety in the RTA. The centre began operations in January 2008 and is founded on a safe systems partnership approach that includes programs to address safer roads, safer vehicles, safer people, and road safety technology. (17) Its Road Safety 2010 plan places an emphasis on reducing speeding and involving local governments in implementation. (18) The Centre for Road Safety, functioning in the state DOT, has signoff responsibilities for preliminary and detailed construction and operational change plans. This responsibility allows for the implementation of safety-conscious planning.

The state of Victoria's department of transportation, VicRoads, has a strategic safety plan called "Arrive Alive!" The first phase of this plan ran from 2002 to 2007, and it was recently revised and extended through 2017. The larger plan is implemented through 3-year action plan documents (19) that function as a systematic "black spot" (high crash location) reduction program. This action plan is also based on a safe systems approach that calls for programs aimed at roads, vehicles, and users. Safety improvements are implemented through revised design standards for roads and roadsides for construction and maintenance activities. The "gray spot" program takes information from the black spot crash analyses and applies these countermeasures to locations, particularly intersections, with similar characteristics. On this systemic level, road safety targets are established and evaluated through the use of a macro-level modeling tool. (20) This evidence-based approach, adjusting for future growth in exposure and vehicle ownership, predicts long-term traffic safety 10 A SYSTEMS APPROACH TO SAFETY BENEFITS OLDER ROAD USERS improvements due to changes in the systematic variables of roadway infrastructure, speed, vehicle design, and driver behavior. In this way, the tool helps policymakers set realistic traffic safety goals and evaluate the impact of individual crash reduction measures.

The current 3-year VicRoads action plan calls for new actions in the areas of road improvements, vehicle safety standards, drugged driving enforcement, young driver graduated licensing, and strategic enforcement of speeding and impaired driving. The larger plan includes actions aimed at older drivers through education, infrastructure improvements, and research. The infrastructure improvements aimed at older road users include land-use planning and roadway design enhancements. These are discussed in detail later in this report.

The third Australian state the scan team visited, Queensland, also has a road safety strategy administered by its transportation department, known as Queensland Main Roads. The Safe4Life plan is similar to the other states' plans in its systematic approach. Because Queensland encompasses a large portion of rural roads in the outback area of Australia's interior, this plan includes more strategies aimed at rural road safety and heavy vehicle movements. One action item of this plan is the Safer Roads Sooner program, which allocates money for low-cost road safety improvements in high-crash locations. Examples of these improvements include shoulder rumble strips, new traffic signals, and roadside hazard removal and shielding.

Japan also has stated road safety improvement goals for federal and state (prefecture) roadways. Its plan was developed with input from citizens in local communities who answered the question "What should the roads be like for the next 10 years?" It also invoked a sense of community and familial responsibility by asking citizens and officials "Is this the type of roadway system we want to leave for our children and grandchildren?" The goals were set during the Central Traffic Safety Measures Conference, chaired by the Japanese prime minister. The conference set a target to reduce traffic fatalities to below 5,000 by 2012. The roadway improvements of this plan primarily focus on high-crash locations. Systemwide programs focus on pedestrian and bicycle safety by removing utility poles in urban areas, separating pedestrians and bicycles from vehicular traffic, and improving accessibility of transportation systems for handicapped users. Public support for this program was garnered through use of an analogy in media reports that tied the number of road crash fatalities to the number of Japanese killed in the Sino-Japanese war during the Meiji period.

In the United States, federal legislation (Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU)) mandates each State to develop its own strategic highway safety plan. To date, 24 of 50 States have included items specifically geared toward improving older road user safety. Like Australia, each U.S. State has its own safety plan, but the States vary in their implementation progress.

Publication covers of state strategic road safety plans in Australia, including Arrive Alive and Safe4Life.
Figure 5. Examples of state strategic road safety plans in Australia.

Strategic Partnering

In both countries visited, but particularly in Australia, road safety programs were delivered through partner organizations, not just by transportation agencies. In Australia, this approach is very much in keeping with the safe systems approach and brings a safety culture to the partnering organizations.

Local Governments

National and state road safety initiatives in Australia are communicated and executed through partnerships with local councils, the equivalent of U.S. county and city governments. The scan team heard directly from one Melbourne suburb, the city of Whitehorse. (21) The road safety officer from this town worked directly with a traffic safety staff member from the district VicRoads office. Together, they developed a road safety strategy for the city that draws on the statewide program, but sets priorities based on the city's own crash data. The road safety programs include pedestrian safety training, vehicle safety checks, and senior driver seminars. In addition, the local government unit hires engineering consulting firms to conduct road safety audits. The programs are funded by a city tax. The program administrator reports that these programs reflect well on the city government and make citizens feel safer. Similar programs exist in New South Wales as part of its Road Safety 2010 strategic plan. (22) It is important to note that not all local councils have dedicated road safety resources to put toward a traffic safety staff member.

Logo: RoadSafe, North Western Community Road Safety Council.
Figure 6. Logo for community RoadSafe program sponsored by VicRoads in Victoria, Australia.

In addition to individual city road safety coordinators, the state DOT sponsors RoadSafe groups through its regional or district offices. (23) A VicRoads traffic safety staff person works with community groups across multiple councils that make up RoadSafe groups. The activities of these groups focus primarily on behavioral programs. They receive matching funds from VicRoads and local councils and/or private businesses to run their programs. For example, in one council a local taxi company sponsors safety programs and in return is allowed to list its phone number on provisional drivers' license plates, along with a message reminding provisional (novice) drivers of the zero-tolerance drunk driving laws.

Another partnering approach is taken in the Australian state of Queensland, where the Main Roads state DOT teams with the Local Government Association of Queensland (LGAQ) to address road safety problems. (24) These two entities jointly sponsor the Roads Alliance, which develops regional plans, coordinates resource sharing, and conducts road safety audits in coordination with the Australian Road Research Board (ARRB). The Roads Alliance board administers funds provided by the state government by diverting 20 percent of state funding directly to local administration. These safety activities are conducted on a regional network basis through the designation of Regional Roads of Significance. This designation assures a systematic approach to improvement protected from local political priorities. In addition, the Roads Alliance is pilot testing local government road safety program administrators, as used in other states. The LGAQ also provides local councils with road safety program information and support through its community toolbox program. (25)

Cover of Local Government Association of Queensland Community-Based Transport Toolbox.
Figure 7. Local Government Association of Queensland Community-Based Transport Toolbox.

In Japan, certain regional offices of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism have developed their own traffic safety plans. The scan team attended a presentation of one such regional plan from the Kanto district, which includes the city of Tokyo. The Regional Development Bureau strives to use crash data to set priorities for infrastructure improvements. It calls this plan Mieruka, which translates as "visualization," to stress the importance of looking at data while identifying issues and setting priorities.

Motoring Clubs

Another partnership witnessed in Australia is the link between state governments and motoring clubs. Each state has its own club that is part of the national Australia Automobile Association (AAA). These clubs provide road safety information, evaluation, and education to members. Perhaps more than in the United States, the Australian motoring clubs collaborate with government transportation agencies to shape public policy. The clubs offer a diversified range of services, such as tour packages and resorts, that appeal to members even if they no longer drive a vehicle. Motoring clubs also provide road safety and vehicle safety information to their customers.

The potential safety of roadway segments based on design elements is rated independently by the Australian Road Assessment Program (AusRAP), which is administered by the AAA with financing from state and federal governments and state motoring clubs. (26) AusRAP provides Star Ratings, similar to vehicle crashworthiness ratings, for state roads. (27) State motoring clubs, such as the National Roads and Motorists' Association (NRMA), also provide reports on community roads to local councils (city governments). (28) The clubs also provide senior driver education and self-assessment programs detailed later in this report.

Health Service Providers, Insurance Companies, and Retirement Planners

Health service providers and health insurers also were partners in road safety activities. Overall, Australian education efforts for older drivers emphasized physical fitness and how this affects ability to drive. The focus on physical fitness also has implications for pedestrians' ability to climb on and off transit vehicles, to cross the street within timed walk phases, and to avoid slip-and-fall hazards throughout the roadway environment. The healthcare providers' main effort appeared to be to lessen the suddenness of the transition from driving to nondriving. Programs were in place to train home health-care workers to provide information about mobility options for people who had ceased driving because of age-related illnesses or decline. Transportation safety education programs were tailored specifically to older road users' experience and judgment.

Victoria has a unique liability insurance program, whereby all injuries due to motor vehicle crashes are covered by a state-run Transport Accident Commission funded by vehicle registration fees. This gives the state unprecedented access to health-care outcomes and costs. These data are used to evaluate the success of the road safety plan. The last example of an innovative partnership involved retirement planners and pension fund administrators, who are beginning to encourage their clients to include planning for transportation needs as part of normal retirement planning. Their thinking is that in discussions on goals for retirement activities, it would be natural to include transportation needs and options.

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Page last modified on November 7, 2014
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