Monday, 25 January 2010

Sustainable safety

The Dutch concept of "Duurzaam Veilig", Sustainable Safety, has lead to this country having some of the safest roads in the world. Over ten years, between 1998 and 2007, the number of traffic fatalities in the Netherlands fell by an average of 5% per year due to the policies within the framework of "Duurzaam Veilig". This is a decrease of 300-400 deaths overall, more than a 30% improvement in safety for the already relatively safe Dutch road network.

So what is "Duurzaam Veilig" and what does this mean ? Let's start with what it is not. Frequently I see from the UK that there are calls for drivers to be better educated, for cyclists to be better educated, for pedestrians to wear brighter clothing so they are seen more easily and to take the responsibility for avoiding being hit by motor vehicles. This is not sustainable safety. Sustainable safety is not about punishing people for making mistakes, but about preventing those mistakes from occurring.

While a good level of education of drivers in particular (as they are the ones bringing lethal force to the roads) is important, it is never possible to completely eliminate the chance of error, or of frustration leading to violent behaviour, if conflict is designed into the way in which roads are used. What's more, people are often tired or distracted. These things cannot be solved by education, they are a result of being human.

What the Dutch have done is to reduce the frequency of conflict between road users and to to reduce the lethality of those crashes which still inevitably occur. This has involved changes in infrastructure to keep vulnerable road users away from the lethal force of motor vehicles, design of junctions so that routes do not cross each other at speed, as well as some changes in the law and education of road users about how to behave in a safe way (i.e. drunk driving, taking a break on long journeys...).

Speed limit reductions are a useful tool, both in town and in rural areas (but note that merely posting speed limit signs is not enough on its own). Out of a total of 120000 km of roads in the Netherlands, 41000 km have had the speed limit reduced from 50 km/h to 30 km/h roads and over 33000 km have been reduced from 80 km/h to 60 km/h. From the article: "Currently over 70% of all 30km/h neighbourhood connector roads have speeds reduced at intersections and/or stretches of road, and 45% of 60km/h roads." It is estimated that 51 to 77 traffic fatalities were prevented by the 30 km/h roads and 60 more due to the rural 60 km/h roads.

On many of the 30 km/h roads, measures have been taken to exclude cars.

Also, roundabout construction is credited with saving an estimated 11 lives. However, it goes beyond this. Traffic light junctions in the Netherlands do not work in the same way as similar junctions in the UK. In most cases, drivers who have a green light can go without having to negotiate with other drivers or cyclists who also have a green light but who are travelling in different directions. The conflict between, for instance, cyclists travelling straight on and motorists turning right has been removed by junction design. What's more, cyclists can avoid many traffic lights therefore avoiding all the danger caused by those junctions.

The measures have proven to be socially cost-effective, as benefits are a factor of four higher than costs. It's a common theme with Dutch policies concerning transport and in particular cycling that measures are not seen as a cost, but as a benefit. The Netherlands is a rich nation, in part due to sensible design of roads.

Of course it's all OK to have the world's safest roads, but to influence people to ride bikes you also need Subjective Safety to make cycling feel safe enough that people want to do it, and want their children to do it too. This has been addressed by a number of means, leading to the world's highest rate of cycling, and happily the same things which increase real safety and work for sustainable safety also work to increase subjective safety. The result is the highest rate of cycling in the world, with very high participation by the broadest possible population of cyclists, and what this means sometimes takes people by surprise.

Read also another blog post which explains about the importance of Sustainable Safety. Also about how the necessary segregation of cyclists from drivers is achieved even without cycle-paths because cycling routes are unravelled from driving routes.


James D. Schwartz said...

Oh David, how badly would I love to see some of these initiatives here in Toronto where 12 pedestrians have been killed in the last couple weeks.

- Politicians who propose reducing the speed limit here are mocked.
- The Toronto Police traffic services spokesman told cyclists they should push their bike on the footpath to avoid conflict with automobiles at intersections
- Drivers who open their door and kill cyclists are fined $110 (similar fine as not having a working bell on a bicycle)
- The media often places the blame on the pedestrians/cyclists for their deaths.
- Businesses complain that business has dropped by xx% since bike lanes were installed in front of their store
- Some drivers complain that they shouldn't have to share the road with cyclists, other drivers complain that bike lanes are underutilized so they should be removed, while other drivers complain that rogue cyclists dangerously ride on the footpath and other drivers complain that unobstructed bicycle infrastructure is a waste of tax money. And that's why we are so far behind.

The Dutch bring me hope for a better day ;)

Sirius7dk said...

You mentioned driver education, which is a thing that I have become somewhat interested in after learning how easy it is to get a driving licence in the UK compared to my native Denmark. (Denmark demands minimum 17 hours, motorway driving, night driving, driving on slippery surface and probably a few other things that I cannot remember)

How difficult do you think that it is to get a drivers licence in the Netherlands compared to the UK?

David Hembrow said...

Sirius: For me it was easy. I simply swapped my UK license for a Dutch one - after two years of not bothering to do so and not driving at all.

As a result, I have no direct experience of the Dutch system. However, from seeing what friends of my daughter are doing, it seems more difficult and quite a lot more expensive to get a driving license here than in the UK. For a start, all driving lessons have to be with a qualified driving instructor, while in the UK you can have a friend or family member instruct you. I think there are also more stringent conditions as you remark about Denmark, but perhaps someone who has been through the process here can tell us more.

I also seems that the tests (theory and practical) are more difficult. People fail them more readily here than in the UK. Mind you, it's also more difficult in the UK than it was 20 years ago.

As I remarked before, the UK is actually doing quite a good job in overall road safety. Drivers are quite safe. It's just when you look at the safety of vulnerable road users that Britain's record looks bad.

David Hembrow said...

James: Toronto's problems sound a lot like those of the UK, Australia, the USA... All quite normal where cyclists are a minority.

Anonymous said...

Hello all
I was shocked at the Toronto death toll, found it very hard to believe. On reading further I picked up that the big advancement in road safety was to make child seats and child seat belts mandatory, this under the headline of making the roads safer for children.
Mark, UK.

Anneke said...

As I've been through the process of getting a drivers license I can tell you something about it. I've heard so far that I was a bit slower than most, but nothing spectacularly slow.

I've started with lessons with a instructor, 36 euros per hour, one hour per week. I've had lessons for about a year. So that makes 50 lessons more or less (I've had holidays, sometimes two lessons a week, so it's an estimation) I've driven in almost all conditions, sun, rain, snow, ice, in a city, in the country, on the highways, on dirt roads... I've had to pass a theory exam for which I had to know all signs and rules. There were about a 100 questions with all kinds of traffic situations, with the question what you should do, or who has priority, or what you see is a legal action, etc. I failed this test once, and passed the second. This exam costs about 60 euros to take each time. Once you've passed the theory exam you can take the practical exam. This one costs 120 euros to take, and includes questions about the car itself, which parts of the engine are what, what is that button for, etc. Then you drive around in the city, on the highway and wherever else the examinor tells you to go. You also have to do several "special" moves. Meaning, how to park in several different ways etc. reversing alongside a line, alongside a curve etc. I also failed this exam once, but passed the second time.

Mark said...

My story is similar to Anneke's. Although it seems she got it far more recent. I got my driver's license in 1984. Took me 44 lessons (of 45 minutes in my case) and I also passed the second driving test.

They had just changed the way the examinations went. I was among the first people who had to pass the "theoretic" exam first before we could do the actual driving test, which we call the practical examination. It is still like this today. Before 1984 the two were combined and a lot easier - or so I am told. I passed the theoretic exam at once, but it took me quite a few months of studying books with a lot of situations where you had to tell if something you saw on the pictures was carried out right or wrong. In my time it were 70 pictures of which you could only miss 5 if I remember correctly.

Another novelty was that I could start the practical lessons before I was 18. This was an experiment in the early 1980s. I first learned handling the car on a closed terrain (so not on the public roads, you had and have to be 18 to drive there). It meant I could already fully operate the car on my actual 18th birthday when I first drove on the road. It was believed it would help people if operating the car and being in traffic and interacting with other traffic were taught separately. I don't know if it really does make a difference, but the experiment was short lived and now everybody has to wait until they are 18 again. It did give me a head start and I had my license at 18 and six months, which is very early for Dutch standards.

As for costs, I remember all the costs combined were 1.965 guilders. Easy to remember since that is my year of birth. To compare: I earned 825 guilders per month at the time, so it was more than 2 months salary. I think that ratio hasn’t changed much. I would say it is quite expensive to get a driver’s license in the Netherlands.

neil said...

I think this is similar to the modern UK test. Certainly there is a theory part and a practical part. The theory part consists of multi-choice questions and the hazard perception video. Whether these are more or less rigorous than NL driving test I have no idea.

When I did my test (many years ago), the instructors used to reckon on 1.5hours training per year of your age. Or at least that's what they wanted to guarantee passing (free lessons to retake).

They also used an off-road track to teach basic skills so all gear change and clutch control was sorted before going on the road.