The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Systems that accommodate human error: The traditional view in road safety has been that when crashes occur, they are usually the sole responsibility of individual road users, despite the fact that other factors beyond their control may have come into play, such as the poor design of roads or vehicles. It is still widely held today that since human error is a factor in some 90 per cent of road crashes, the leading response should be to persuade road users to adopt “error-free” behaviour. According to this policy, information and publicity should form the backbone of road traffic injury prevention, rather than being one element of a much more comprehensive programme.

Human error on the roads does not always lead to disastrous consequences...In addition, human behaviour is governed not only by individual knowledge and skills, but also by the environment in which the behaviour takes place. Indirect influences, such as the design and layout of the road, the nature of the vehicle, and traffic laws and their enforcement — or lack of enforcement — affect behaviour in important ways...

Aspects of human behaviour in the context of road traffic safety can certainly be altered. Nonetheless, errors can also be effectively reduced by changing the immediate environment, rather than focusing solely on changing the human condition. However, as the Swedish Committee of Inquiry into Road Traffic Responsibility concluded: “In order to achieve a safe transport system, there must be a change in our views concerning responsibility, to the extent that system designers are given clearly defined responsibility for designing the road system on the basis of actual human capabilities thereby preventing the occurrence of...death and serious injury that are possible to predict and prevent...”

In the majority of...crashes, injuries are caused because loads and accelerations, exceeding those the body can tolerate, are applied by some part of the car . Pedestrians...incur a risk of about 80 per cent of being killed at a collision speed of 50 km/hr, as opposed to a 10 per cent risk at speeds of 30 km/hr...

Most traffic systems... go beyond these limits on a regular basis. Separating cars and pedestrians on the road by providing pavements is very often not done. Speed limits of 30 km/hr in shared-space residential areas are commonly not implemented. Car and bus fronts, as generally designed, do not provide protection for pedestrians...For car occupants, wearing seat-belts in well-designed cars can provide protection to a maximum of 70 km/hr in frontal impacts and 50 km/hr in side impacts. Higher speeds could be tolerated if the interface between the road infrastructure and vehicle were to be well-designed and crash-protective — for example, by the provision of crash cushions on sharp ends of roadside barriers. However, most infrastructure and speed limits...allow much higher speeds without the presence of crash-protective interfaces between vehicle and roadside objects, and without significant use of seat belts.

This is particularly the case in many low-income and middle-income countries...To prevent road deaths and injuries, a traffic system better adapted to the physical vulnerabilities of its users needs to be created...

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