How to be a lifesaver: Three simple things to do that will make city roads less deadly

by Hans Michael Kloth, Internatinal Transport Forum

Today  is European Day Without A Road Death, or EDWARD for short. Well, it isn’t really. By the end of today, 21 September 2017, the lives of 70 people will have been lost  in traffic crashes, as every day in the European Union.

And Europe is doing well in comparison. Of the almost 1.25 million annual road deaths worldwide, 90% occur in the poorer countries of Africa, Asia and South America. Even in countries that have been highly successful in improving road safety in the past, such as Sweden, the number of traffic fatalities has been rising again recently. In 2015, the 31 member countries of the International Road Traffic and Accident Database (IRTAD) for which data are consistently available registered a 3.3% increase in road fatalities  compared to 2014, and 2016 figures again show an upward trend for 14 of these.

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Memorial for a cyclists killed in a road crash, Manchester 2013 (Photo: Grey World/Flickr cc by)

What can we do as individuals to help turn the tide on road deaths? EDWARD provides an important reminder that being a lifesaver is actually not that difficult. So here are three simple things that you can do to protect yourself and others in traffic – one each for cyclists, one for motorists, and one for mayors.

Giv’em a sign!

The group that experts call “vulnerable road users” is at particular risk on the road. The share of elderly (65+ years) among road fatalities, for instance, outstrips their share of the population by as much as 2:1. Also vulnerable are cyclists, which are a fast growing group of road users as cities try to encourage sustainable forms of transport.

Unlike pedestrians, who are somewhat protected by urban space dedicated to their use (a.k.a. sidewalks), cyclists are usually forced to cohabit with cars. Invariably, crashes between these two unequal parties happen, and, equally invariably, they end with injuries or worse for cyclists while the car barely shows a scratch.

“Wear a helmet”, is one often-heard counsel. Head injuries from cycling crashes are common, usually severe and often deadly, and to reduce your individual risk of severe injury in case you bang into something, there is nothing better than wearing a helmet. On the other hand there’s the problem of compensation (riders taking extra risks and cars being more aggressive as both factor in the protection). There is a huge, emotional debate around helmets that sometimes obscures a simple truth: They are great for preventing the worst when something bad happens, but do nothing for preventing something bad to occur in the first place.

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Signalling a left turn, alternate signals for a right turn, and indicating the intention to stop (Illustration: Shutterstock)

For active safety, therefore, try something truly simple, no matter what your position on helmets is: When you take a turn, make a sign. I started indicating with my stretched-out arm a year ago, after I caught myself cursing at a car that had put me in a tight spot by not indicating, and then realised I was being a little hypocritical. Since, I have made signaling my moves a cycling habit, and the enhanced sense of safety I have felt when biking through the sometimes mad traffic of Paris has been reassuring and a refreshing exprience.

Predictability really is the best friend of safety. Simply doing things in a way that enables others to anticipate your behaviour empowers them to adjust their own ways and avoid dangerous situations based on misreading each other. I’ve heard others say that indicating turns can create dangerous situations because the cyclist has less control when riding with just one hand on the bar. I found the opposite to be as true – one hand off the handle forces you to slow down, and  it becomes impossible to weave through traffic, one of the more dangerous cycling practices.

Reach out the Dutch way

Anyone who has watched this video will appreciate why cyclists live in mortal fear of car doors. It’s an almost daily experience for anyone who rides a bicycle through a city: a driver or passenger opens the car door without checking whether anyone is approaching from behind. At the very least, the cyclist will be forced to veer into traffic and risk being hit; in the worst case, with no time to react they will  slam into the door like into a knife. In June, the case of a Saudi diplomat made headlines when he killed a 55-year old cyclist in Berlin with the door of his Porsche. Statistics are rare, but the UK for instance experienced 1.3 “dooring” incidents on average every single day of  2015.

So what can you do as a motorist to avoid knocking down someone else with your door? Open it using the “Dutch Reach”. This way of opening car doors has been practiced in the Netherlands for half a century. In fact it is part of  training when you get your driver’s licence there. How does it work? Simply grab the door handle with the far hand, not with the one on the side of the door. This  forces your body to swivel towards the door and your field of vision will  automatically include the rear view mirror as well a the area besides and immediately behind your car. It’s a simple routine that requires minimal change of behaviour but can prevent human tragedies on our streets. (The video above explains how it works).

Degrees of separation

Many cities are investing heavily into more cycling paths and infrastructure that will encourage urbanites to walk and cycle. The “active modes” of transport help citizens stay healthy, reduce pollution, unclog the streets and generally make cities more attractive, inclusive, livable. Yet the urban road system was never designed for mixing well-protected, heavy and high-velocity vehicles with unprotected, lightweight and slower bicycles. It follows logically that they are best separated to avoid conflict, as is the case with cars and pedestrians.

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Cycle lane in London (Photo: Ron Enslin/Flickr cc by)

Yet there are very different ways to do this. Some options can be rolled out quickly and are inexpensive, but ultimately provide only a semblance of separation and thus safety. It’s a step in the right direction to paint a blue or red or green strip with a white bicycle icon along the kerbside of a street. But that won’t keep a car or van or truck  from veering onto the bicycle lane whenever the driver chooses (or is forced to). Some cities learned the hard way what the cost of expanding the cycling network in a rush can be. In London, no less than six cyclists killed in crashes in a space of two weeks in November 2013.

Instead of spending money on paint, mayors might invest in stone and cement, and install physical separators between car and bike lanes. People who have never cycled before will not take to the bicycle unless they feel safe from cars. Bright colours alone will not give them that feeling, a physical barrier between them cars will. When I cycle to work, I use a route that is slightly longer, simply because it has a segregated bicycle lane with a 20 centimetre high concrete barrier – that’s all it needs. At ITF we will be holding a Roundtable to discuss just what works best in January, in the context of Safer City Streets, a global network of cities that work together on improving urban road safety – stay tuned for details.

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Paris bicycle lane with separator (Photo: Jean-Louis Zimmermann/Flickr cc by)

A day without a road death in Europe is still some way off. But an encouraging number of European cities have actually achieved the remarkable feat of having not a single road death in a whole year or even longer. There must be something these communities are doing right. It may not necessarily have been a high-profile, high-cost road safety initiative, but perhaps a mixture of little common sense things consistently applied. So let’s not stop taking the small steps that will get us there eventually. Whether you cycle, drive a car, run a city, all three, or nothing of those: think about what you can do to help overcome the scourge of road deaths – every day, not just on EDWARD.

 

Hans Michael Kloth cycles to work and occasionally drives a car on week-ends. He is Head of Communications of the the International Transport Forum

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“Good governance is central to road safety”

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David Ward of Global NCAP, the worldwide network that test-crashes cars, talks about why governance matters for safe roads and how the new worldwide network of MPs he has helped launch will fight for reducing the number of traffic victims.


Why should road safety advocates get involved in discussing transport governance frameworks? Surely their priority ought to be the nuts and bolts of making roads and cars safer, and of teaching humans to take fewer risks in traffic?”

Good governance is central to the ‘nuts and bolts’ of road safety. Shared responsibility is the essence of the safe system approach to road injury prevention and sharing requires adherence to principles of good governance.  Having transparent and accurate road traffic injury data is essential to set priorities and develop policies that will work. Public support for road safety policies will also be stronger if they understand and trust the motivation for their introduction. That is why community engagement is a crucial aspect of good governance in road safety. If road traffic injury data is lacking or manipulated to understate the problem, then policy impacts will be negatively affected. And if corruption exists among agencies responsible for traffic rules, vehicle and driving licensing, this will totally undermine enforcement efforts to improve driver behavior. It is, perhaps, no coincidence that the countries with the best performance in road safety generally have a similarly strong rating in good governance and respect for the rule of law.

It’s become a bit of a mantra among policy makers that engaging the public in decision-making leads to better results. Citizens may be more inclined to view such exercises as cosmetic. Can you give one or two examples where stakeholder dialogue has actually led to better road safety policies?

If you take police enforcement, for instance, there are some excellent examples where reforms designed to overcome corruption among traffic officers have been based around community engagement. This has helped to build public trust and support for stronger enforcement of measures such as seat belt wearing. Road safety campaigns in Costa Rica and Moldova have demonstrated this. Also in many countries support for action to curb speeding has been shown to be most successful when based on local community support.

You helped launch the “Global Network for Road Safety Legislators” last December. What void does this initiative fill, and what is its ambition?

 The Global Network for Road Safety Legislators intends to provide a platform to share good practice in road injury prevention among parliamentarians worldwide. Members of Parliament (MPs) can play a crucial role in the adoption of effective road safety policies and legislation. Their leadership can be decisive in helping to prevent the 3500 deaths that occur daily on the world’s road. On 8 May during the 2017 UN Global Road Safety Week the Network will launch a Manifesto #4 Road Safety which includes ten recommendations for parliamentarians worldwide to support the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety and the Sustainable Development Goal’s target to halve road deaths by 2020. The Manifesto, which has been approved by a cross-party group of senior MPs from Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, Latin America, the USA and the UK, also endorses a new ‘SAVE LIVES’ package of road injury prevention measures issued by the World Health Organisasafe-system-report-covertion. This policy package recommends that all UN Member States adopt of laws to tackle speeding, drink driving, non-use of motorcycle helmets, seat belts and child restraints, and the application of acceptable vehicle and road safety construction
standards. The MPs also recognize the importance of the Safe System approach and highlight the International Transport Forum’s recent report ‘Zero Deaths and Serious Injuries: Leading a Paradigm Shift to a Safe System’. They also propose a new global casualty reduction target to be achieved by 2030. Hopefully the Network and the Manifesto #4 Road Safety can provide some extra legislative muscle to eventually achieve a world free from road traffic fatalities.


David Ward is the Secretary General of the Global New Car Assessment Programme. (Global NCAP),  a worldwide network crash test programmes. You can hear him speak on “UN Sustainable Development Goals: A game changer for transport planning”  on 31 May at the ITF’s 2017 Summit on “Governance of Transport”.

 

Why it pays for cities to fight road deaths – and how they can get better at it

By Alexandre Santacreu, International Transport Forum

Every minute of every day, someone loses their life in a traffic crash on a city street. With cities growing rapidly and urban motor traffic also increasing dramatically in many cities, the situation is likely to get worse, not better in years to come.

More and more city authorities are realising that dangerous traffic conditions on their streets have a toll that goes beyond the human tragedy and economic loss caused by road deaths and crash injuries. Dangerous traffic makes people feel unsafe, and people who feel unsafe will refrain from doing normal things – letting their children walk to school or cycling to work, for instance.

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Waiting to cross traffic (Flickr/Serakatie)

Thus,  a high level of urban road safety is more and more seen as a critical component of a liveable city.  It improves citizens’ quality of life, it increases choices, it opens up opportunities. Ultimately, safer city streets are about enhanced personal freedom.

Safer streets equal more liveable cities

This was recognised in the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals in 2016. There, governments agreed (in goal number 11) to “make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable” and as part of that committed to “improving road safety,… with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations”.

The link between the different objectives is easy to spot: improving road safety makes cities not only safer, but also more sustainable because it enables people to walk or cycle without having to fear for their lives. It also makes them more inclusive because those who cannot afford cars can be mobile without running lethal risks.

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But in practical terms, what can mayors and city authorities do to enhance traffic safety in their city? One obvious answer is: Do not reinvent the wheel – learn from what others are already doing. Many good practices for urban road safety exist around the world and only wait to be copied. A second, maybe less obvious answer is: Get your data in shape. Measure what is happening on your streets and how it changes, so you can base policy decisions on evidence, not assumptions.

When cities learn from each other

These two thoughts are the driving ideas behind Safer City Streets, the global traffic safety network for liveable cities. Little more than six months after its launch in October 2016, a total of 38 cities are working together in the Safer City Streets network, ranging  from Astana in Kazakhstan to Zürich in Switzerland and including global metropolises such as New York City, Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro, London,  Berlin, Melbourne, Buenos Aires, Montreal and many others.

Safer City Streets brochure cover page w framThe Safer City Streets network, which holds its first meeting in Paris on 20 and 21 April (with more than 50 participants expected to attend),  provides the first global platform for cities and their road safety experts to exchange experiences and discuss ideas. At the heart of Safer City Streets activity will be efforts to improve the collection of data about urban road crashes to enable cities to compare themselves with others and base policy decisions on reliable evidence. A methodology for the database has already been developed and many of the cities have started feed it in their numbers.

The flying start has been helped by the fact that Safer City Streets itself is building on previous experience: It is modeled on the highly successful International Traffic Safety Data and Analysis Group (IRTAD), the International Transport Forum’s permanent working group on road safety, which brings together countries and national road safety stakeholders. Fittingly, the annual IRTAD meeting is held back-to-back with the inaugural meeting of Safer City Streets – which will also include a joint workshop with POLIS,  a network of European cities and regions, on how to bring cities from both networks together in order to find the best solutions for data collection.

Cities who are interested in finding out more about Safer City Streets are invited to contact the author. They should also know that membership of  Safer City Streets is currently free, thanks to a very generous grant from the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA).

Alexandre Santacreu is a policy analyst for road safety at the International Transport Forum and the project manager of the Safer City Streets network. More information at http://itf-oecd.org/safer-city-streets. This post also appears on OECD Insights.

Are Zero Road Deaths Possible?

safe-system-report-coverBy Hans Michael Kloth, International Transport Forum. This post is jointly published with the OECD Insights blog.

Every year around the globe, 1.25 million people are killed in traffic – about the population of a city like Munich, Stockholm or Dallas. Up to 50 million are seriously injured. Road crashes kill more people than malaria or tuberculosis and are steadily working their way up the top ten causes of death worldwide, forecast to rise from currently ninth place to fifth by 2030. Among the 15 to 29-year olds, they are already the most common cause of death. The human tragedies behind these stark figures are as dramatic as the economic impacts: Road fatalities and serious injuries cost many countries an estimated 2 to 5% of their GDP.

Clearly, this situation is unsustainable. The United Nations’ “Decade of Action for Road Safety”, launched in 2011 with the aim of stabilising the number of road fatalities and then beginning to bring them down by 2020, was an important step to acknowledge that action is required at a global level to stop the daily carnage on the world’s roads. Then, last year, the UN upped the ante by including an even more ambitious road safety target in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): Goal 3.6 calls on the international community to halve the number of road deaths and injuries by 2020.

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But in order to meet this target, more than 400 road deaths would have to be prevented every single day for the next four years; not to even speak of injuries. Yet with the number of cars growing rapidly in many emerging economies, so is the death toll there: Powerful, vehicles on inadequate roads, drivers with little training, inadequate rules and weak enforcement form a deadly mix that is not going to disappear easily.

A reboot for road safety policies

In developed economies, meanwhile, the downward trend that marked the past three decades (and saw the death toll in the UK, for instance, fall in 2015 to almost 20% of the 1966 peak) seems to be coming to an end: Fatality rates in many of the best-performing countries are levelling out and in some cases rising again, notably among vulnerable road users such as pedestrians, cyclists or seniors. A reboot for road safety policy is thus urgently needed, as the approaches that brought success in the past do no longer deliver the returns they once did, or are overwhelmed by an avalanche of cars.

Inspiration comes from a group of countries that have broken with the traditional paradigm in road safety, which is to fix crash hotspots and try to make road users behave more responsibly with a lot of stick and a few carrots. Nations like Sweden or the Netherlands, but also metropolises like New York City, have made it their official policy to try to eradicate road deaths. This approach, known as “Vision Zero”, starts from the premise that the loss of human life as the price for mobility is unacceptable – and that the mobility system should function in a way that poses as little deadly risk as possible.

This approach has been followed for decades in areas like occupational safety, where machinery has long been designed in a “forgiving” way, so that if the operator makes a mistake it will not kill or maim him – think of a circular saw that stops automatically if a limb gets too close for comfort. This “Safe System” approach is not new to transport either – aviation and rail operations would be unthinkable without it, as we would not want a single person’s mistake make a plane crash or trains collide.

Where humans err

Road traffic has yet to embrace the Safe System. Media stories regularly remind us that “human error” was the involved in this or that horror crash. Subtext: While all systems functioned, unfortunately the human didn’t, so there was nothing that could be done. Based on this view, governments spend billions on enforcement and the education of road users. But what is the price tag to get every single citizen to behave correctly all the time? Achieving 100% compliance is of course impossible. Humans make mistakes even if they are well-trained, willing to follow rules and capable of doing so. All of us who have turned our head while at the wheel to see what the kids are doing on the back seats know this to be true.

The Safe System approach that underpins “Vision Zero” accepts that humans will fail. From that principle, the challenge becomes to organise the traffic ecosystem in such a way that human mistakes do not cause serious harm. Here a second principle of the Safe System comes into play: The human body can only absorb a certain amount of kinetic energy before serious injuries occur. Again, a simple truth, too often disregarded. Taken seriously, it has wide implications for speed management, mixing traffic or designing infrastructure.

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The third principle of the Safe System is shared responsibility. If the aim is to avoid serious harm, it’s just not good enough to blame the driver who hit a tree, or the elderly lady who stepped on the pedestrian crossing without looking. In a Safe System, the agency managing afforestation understands that its actions can have an impact on road safety, as does the urban planner who will foresee speed bumps that force cars to slow down at crosswalks.

Will self-driving cars solve the road safety problem?

The fourth and final guiding principles for traffic as a Safe System is as straightforward: You cannot address road safety piecemeal. All parts of the system need to interlock to reinforce each other, so that when one part fails in the chain of events leading to a serious incident, the others will still protect humans from injury or worse.

Technology will go a long way to make road traffic safer. Alco locks, automatic braking, intelligent speed assistance, electronic stability control and the like will make lethal errors less likely, no doubt. Self-driving cars, many hope, will solve the road safety problem by making error-prone human drivers superfluous. But autonomous driving is not a silver bullet. Forecasts put sales of self-driving vehicles at 11.8 million or about 2.7% of the global car fleet in 2035. And the vast majority will be sold in developed world, while fully 90% of road fatalities occur in low- and middle-income countries. The impact of self-driving cars on road safety will hardly be noticeable for another generation or more

There are other misconceptions about how Vision Zero works. It does not mean, for instance, that there will be no more crashes. There might even be more, because the Safe System is focused on avoiding serious injuries, not necessarily accidents. Take roundabouts: It is not rare that there are more collisions at roundabouts than at standard intersections. But because they rarely involve impacts at a 90-degree angle and occur at lower speeds, far fewer severe injuries result.

Ultimately, can there really ever be zero road deaths? On a global level, probably not. But looking at individual segments it is already happening: There are at least three European cities with more than 250 000 inhabitants that have not had a single road fatality in over a year, according to German safety specialist Dekra. In Sweden, not a single child was killed in a bicycle accident in 2008. On this level, zero road deaths as a target is not utopian – and then: if it can be done for one group or region or car make, it can probably also be done for others as well. If governments take the political lead and bring all those together who can and should make it happen, it can work.

Let’s give the Safe System a chance to save lives.

pm logo and strap_newThe International Transport Forum (ITF) at the OECD recently published “Zero Road Deaths and Serious Injuries: Leading a Paradigm Shift to a Safe System” (2016), which reviews the experiences of countries that have adopted Vision Zero and the Safe System and provides guidance for leaders who seek to drastically reduce road deaths in their communities. For this report and its global road safety work the ITF is today being awarded a Prince Michael of Kent International Road Safety Award.