Global Innovations in Road Safety: Protecting Vulnerable Users

Katherine McCallum
Feb 12, 2024
min read
cyclist riding a bicycle along the road in the sun

The issue of road safety is an ongoing issue for governments and municipalities around the world. One of the biggest challenges is accommodating vulnerable road users, which include pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists on streets where cars and other vehicles reign supreme. 

We’ve decided to take a look at four case studies from around the world that target road safety with particularly impressive results. Keep reading to learn all about them, and see which ones you think could work here in Queensland. 

The Netherlands: Home of the Cyclist

Bicycles are a massive part of the transportation network in the Netherlands, with over 27% of all journeys made in the country being by bike. To make sure this is possible and that cycling is accessible and safe for everyone, the country has enacted laws and legislation designed to safeguard and offer privileges to cyclists compared to other road users. 

This includes priority roads, indicated by shark teeth markings, which mean that motorists joining the road from a side road must give way to all vehicles on the main road, including bikes. In most areas, dedicated bicycle lanes can also be found, which help to minimise contact with other road users and pedestrians to increase safety. In the same vein, bicycles cannot be used at all in pedestrianised areas, keeping walkers safe. 

One of the most interesting pieces of legislation in the Netherlands regarding cyclists is Article 185. This stipulates that if a bike and a motorised vehicle get into an accident, the motorist is mainly liable for the incident. That’s not to say that cyclists can do whatever they want on the Netherlands’ roads however, as they can still face fines and legal action for traffic violations, and if the fault is clearly on them. 

Pedestrian Safety in Japan

In the 1960s in the post-war boom, Japan’s roads were some of the most deadly in the world as an influx of new motorists led to many fatalities, many of them pedestrian deaths. Nowadays though, the country has done a complete turnaround, with the deaths on its roads in 2021 at a record low with less than 3000 deaths in car crashes as opposed to 43,000 in the US for that year.

Pedestrian safety measures and controls are key factors in Japan’s success. The implementation of zebra crossings across the entire country and in high density means that there is almost always a safe way for pedestrians to cross and for motorists to give way to them. To put this into perspective, the crossing at Shibuya Station in Tokyo looks like it would be all but impossible to cross. However, using large zebra crossings means that commuters using this busy station can cross with no issues.

Japan has also removed the danger that parked cars can cause for pedestrians, banning on-street parking. People who purchase a car in the country must obtain a certificate to show that they have a place to store their car appropriately off the road. Reducing cars parked on the sides of the street, dramatically increases visibility for both pedestrians and motorists, helping to prevent crashes. Not only that but the strict requirement for off-road storage deters people from buying new cars, which isn’t too much of a problem when you consider the speed and efficiency of Japan’s public transport systems. 

Sweden’s Vision Zero

Sweden has taken an incredibly pragmatic view when it comes to road safety. Rather than trying to prevent all accidents on its roads, it acknowledges the fact that accidents will always happen, and so the focus should be on making sure that any crash or incident does not result in serious injuries or fatalities. This approach was set out in the Vision Zero legislation enacted in 1997, which aimed to reduce fatalities on the country’s roads to zero by 2020. 

In order to do this, Sweden has effectively overhauled its road infrastructure. Central barriers have been installed on almost all roads to prevent head-on collisions, most four-road junctions have been converted into roundabouts, more speed bumps have been constructed in residential areas, and there is a wider police presence and monitoring of speed limits and driver behaviours. 

Vulnerable road users like cyclists and pedestrians are also catered for under Sweden’s Vision Zero initiative, with pedestrian bridges over busy roads, dedicated cycle lanes, and sidewalks with good visibility. 

This holistic approach takes everything into account, including monitoring data and insights on things such as speed data, traffic density, crash data, and emergency response statistics in order to inform future planning for even safer roads. The Vision Zero initiative is so successful that it has been adopted in many other countries in the world, including in some of the US’s largest cities, and is even supported by Australia’s governments!

Colombia’s Ciclovía Program

The city of Bogotá, Colombia’s capital, has been pioneering its Ciclovía program since 1974. As part of the initiative, over 75 miles of roadways are closed to cars and other motorised vehicles every single Sunday and holiday. Over the course of the year, this equates to around 70 days where people are encouraged to either walk or cycle wherever they need to go, not only improving their general health but promoting these modes of transport as safer and accessible options at other parts of the week and year, with 16% of people now using bicycles as their main mode of transport around Bogotá. 

Unsurprisingly, Sunday is the safest day of the week on Colombia’s roads. Alongside removing motorised traffic aside from buses in dedicated lanes for accessibility for those unable to walk or cycle freely, over 2000 volunteers get together for every Ciclovía event, providing support as marshals, first aiders, and even offering free exercise and yoga classes in the city’s parks!

Queensland’s Road Safety

In Queensland, the Road Safety Strategy for 2022-2031 outlines the pledges, challenges, and initiatives that the government hopes to resolve within the next 10 years. As a part of this, they aim to reduce the number of road fatalities by 50%, and serious injuries by 30%. One of the biggest challenges faced is reducing the number of motorcyclist fatalities, which account for over 50% of those that occur to vulnerable road users. 

By looking at this issue alongside others within the Queensland model for road safety, it is hoped that a four-pronged approach that considers roads, places and spaces, and individual and community approaches will help to shape a safer future for all road users in the years to come. 

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