Road Network Operations
& Intelligent Transport Systems
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Road Safety

Author  Professor Oliver Carsten (Institute for Transport Studies, University of Leeds, UK)

Across the world 1.24 million people lose their lives each year on the roads. A further 20-50 million suffer non-fatal injuries. The United Nations (UN) Decade of Action for Road Safety (2011-2020) aims to halve annual road fatalities by 2020, compared to 2010.

Advanced Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) can contribute significantly to road safety, enabling sophisticated ITS applications to be deployed to prevent accidents, reduce their severity and improve survival rates. Road authorities are the major public stakeholders in ITS and largely responsible for their safety aspects.

Far-reaching developments include in-vehicle control systems and roadside information, traffic control and enforcement – which impact on the safety of drivers, road workers, cyclists and pedestrians, all of whom are particularly vulnerable. For example:

  • pedestrians and cyclists can be detected at signalised crossings - and traffic control can be designed to reduce the risk of accidents to them. Those with impaired movement - the elderly, people with young children, and those with disabilities need special consideration (See Vulnerable Road Users)
  • weather and road-surface conditions can lead to road accidents and incidents. Advanced weather warnings enable drivers to avoid dangerous areas. They also enable road operators to react to natural hazards such as winter ice or floods by directing equipment such as snow ploughs to the most severely-affected areas and, if necessary, prioritise evacuation and emergency vehicle access routes (See Weather Management)

Many ITS systems have been developed with the primary aim of increasing road safety – such as improved vehicle control in critical situations and automatic alerts for assistance after an incident has occurred. (See Driver Support)

The following systems are already implemented by many road authorities:

  • speed control systems (local danger warning, variable speed limit signs)
  • Intelligent Speed Adaptation (ISA)/speed alert (integrated with interoperable digital speed limit databases)
  • automated enforcement of traffic rules (red light cameras, speed enforcement, distance control in tunnels, alcohol locks)
  • incident management (automated incident detection)
  • Variable Massage Signs (VMS) designed for speed control
  • in-vehicle or infrastructure based warning systems (e-Call)

Other systems, for which safety was not the primary motivation, will nevertheless affect safety because their use results in changes in travel and driving behaviour – for example travel information systems giving forward warning of an accident ahead may prevent the occurrence of secondary collisions.

Systems aimed at improving safety generally have a positive influence on drivers and road users - but they can also have a negative impact – for example through behavioural adaptation or risk compensation. (See Human Factors)

World Health Organisation (WHO)
Global Status Report on Road Safety 2013

The WHO report presents road safety information from 182 countries across the world, accounting for 99% of its population. It provides the baseline for the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020. Traffic injuries are the eighth leading cause of death globally, and for young people (aged 15-29) they are the leading cause of death. At the national level, road traffic injuries result in significant financial costs - particularly for developing economies. The costs to low-and-middle-income countries is estimated at being between 1–2 % of their gross national product - over US$ 100 billion a year.

Unless urgent action is taken, WHO suggests that by 2030 road traffic deaths will become the fifth leading cause of death. Currently only 28 countries, covering 7% of the world’s population, have comprehensive road safety laws for five key risk factors: drinking and driving, speeding, and failing to use motorcycle helmets, seat-belts and child restraints. Over a quarter of the fatalities are among pedestrians and cyclists – but to date, these road users have been neglected in transport and planning policy.


Reference sources

World Health Organisation (2013) Global Status Report on Road Safety 2013: Supporting a Decade of Action ISBN 978 92 4 1564564,

PIARC Technical Committee 3.1 Road Safety (2011) Taking Advantage of Intelligent Transport Systems to Improve Road Safety ISBN 2-84060-233-4