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What is Safe Systems and how does it apply to road safety?

By Dr Lisa Dorn, Founder of PsyDrive

This blog is the second in the series to introduce the topics covered in the five modules as part of the 2 day CIEHF accredited online Human Factors in Road Risk Management course.

There is a new way of thinking about road safety that has implications for all road safety professionals, whether you are managing road risk as an employer, an insurer, a police officer, an engineer, a manager, or trainer. The Safe Systems approach considers that the dynamic interaction between operating speeds, vehicles, road infrastructure and road-user behaviour must be managed so that the sum of the system's parts combines for a more significant effect on reducing casualties. Safe Systems is best practice in road safety according to the World Health Organisation and the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development.

When I designed the course, it was important to ensure that road safety professionals consider how road user behaviour can be understood as just one component in a complex set of traffic-related systems. It is often quoted that 94% of crashes are contributed to by human factors but with Safe Systems we move away from the unhelpful view that little can be done to improve road user behaviour. Instead, Safe Systems assert that all components of the traffic system must be strengthened so that if one part fails then another part protects road users from becoming a casualty. By concluding that human error caused the crash we may neglect effective interventions that address systemic failures in a causal chain. Those failures allow human error to push through all the defences and cause a crash.

Safe Systems state that road users will inevitably make mistakes and commit violations due to human limitations and there is a collective responsibility for building safe and forgiving road systems. The idea is to break the chain of events that can lead to a crash. For the Safe Systems module, we go through the “Swiss-Cheese” model to show how layers of defences can reduce the risk that weaknesses in one layer that permit a casualty to occur at its final point of destination (Reason, 1997).

The first module ends with an interactive discussion on how your organisation can strengthen some of its own systems to improve road safety. For example: -

Are fleet drivers/riders inadvertently incentivised for risky behaviours?

Are managers supervising drivers adequately?

Are police officers suffering from fatigue due to unsafe operating conditions?

Are vehicle and road systems being designed with road user behaviour in mind?

Book your preferred course date online at for: -

13th - 14th September

26th - 27th September

31st October - 1st November

PsyDrive is Specialist provider of research, assessment, and interventions for improved road safety. We have a well-established Human Factors capability with a network of associates delivering training, consultancy, and evidence-based interventions for safer road user behaviour.


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