Fundamentals of Community Road Safety

Why is road safety important to communities and how does it impact safety strategies?

Community road safety programs are needed to support provincial/national road safety initiatives that target major crash and injury factors using police enforcement, mass media campaigns, vehicle safety policies and road infrastructure improvement programs.

While policies, standards and regulations can be instituted at the provincial and national levels, the greatest impacts are at the local level, where all road users live and use the roads. This is because at the local level there can be greater involvement and better coordination of all stakeholders.

Engaging community members to change local perceptions (awareness & attitudes) and implementing initiatives locally, has the greatest potential to save lives and minimize the consequences of collisions within the community.

Most communities continue to deal with many social, health and policing issues yet it is the outcome of road and traffic collisions that takes a greater toll on the public as a whole.

All communities are different, in population, geography (urban/rural) and culture. Therefore there is no one-size-fits-all strategy.

Urban settlement includes cities and towns. On the other hand, the rural settlement includes villages and hamlets. Rural areas often have higher speed limits than urban areas, which amplifies risks on the road. Consequently, when crashes occur in rural areas, they generally occur at higher speeds, because rural roads have higher speed limits. Road safety in smaller, rural communities can also be affected by drivers who drive faster on rural roads and fail to slow down when entering a small village. Another difference which may influence road safety is that urban areas are developed in a planned and systematic way, according to the process of urbanization and industrialization. Conversely, systematic development in rural areas is less common and instead, based on natural vegetation and fauna in the region. The mix of different types of vehicles, cars and farm tractors (faster and slower) also contributes to issues resulting from speed differentials.1

In addition to urban and rural settlements, there are many First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities that require additional considerations such as:

  • Elders are important partners in any road safety activity. They are well-respected in the community and build the credibility of projects among residents. They also provide a great deal of knowledge about the community which supports effective planning.
  • Activities should be based on evidence where it is available. It is important to make planning decisions based on available surveillance data, research and knowledge. This will provide a greater chance of success.
  • Long-term interventions are important. The causes of collisions are complex and often rooted in historical issues. Road safety issues are not changed immediately by single, short initiatives. Efforts must be sustained over the long-term to be effective.
  • Building resilience in communities is important. Resilience implies that in the face of trouble, a community is not only able to cope and to recover, but is also able to change to reflect different priorities that arise from the problem. Communities need to be able to respond to adversity in a healthy manner.
  • People’s long-held beliefs sometimes do not reflect current reality. For example, some people do not want to strap children into car seats because they do not believe that honors children appropriately and prefer to hold them in their arms. There may be cultural beliefs that need to be considered when planning interventions.
  • It is important to respect diversity between communities. Not all Aboriginal communities share the same language, customs, traditions, and road safety issues and concerns. Therefore, not all communities will respond to road safety interventions in the same way.
  • There are differing levels and types of literacy across communities. When producing written materials, it is important to ensure they are appropriate for the literacy level of the intended readers.

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What are the objectives and benefits of integrated and comprehensive community road safety programs?

Community road safety programs have the potential to achieve some, or all, of the following objectives on a larger scale as compared to national or provincial road safety initiatives:

  • Creating an informed community to increase and personalize the relevance of road safety issues and making road safety a priority within the community;
  • Influencing the community to adopt safe road user behaviours;
  • Encouraging local government to adopt a Safe System approach that integrates activities, complements and enhances provincial or national objectives;
  • Encouraging partners and stakeholders to include road safety in their planning processes;
  • Mobilizing local resources and encouraging the community to take ownership of and lead road safety initiatives;
  • Using available data, identify specific local priorities/issues and targeting resources accordingly to promote effective action; and,
  • Monitoring and measuring progress and outcomes initiatives.

The benefits associated with achieving these objectives include:

  • Increased recognition of the importance of road safety (awareness and understanding);
  • The implementation of evidence-based initiatives in the local community;
  • Helping save lives and reduce trauma and road injuries;
  • Greater involvement, improved co-ordination and shared responsibility of all stakeholders; and,
  • Continuous improvement in road safety initiatives.

While national/provincial programs are essential to establish laws, standards, policies, practices and programs, the majority of road users live in, or close to, a community. This is where “change action happens” – where individual road users can be influenced to adopt safe behaviours and thereby create a strong road safety culture. At this level, real change occurs and has immediate benefits.

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What constitutes a 5-star community?

The 5-star rating represents a form or standard of excellence that is an attainable goal for all communities, although their strategy to achieve this goal may vary.

  • A 5-star vehicle rating is in line with the International New Car Assessment Program which reflects the safety features in the vehicle.
  • The International Road Assessment Program (IRAP) measures the risk on roads and assesses star ratings for roads. For example, a 1-star rating is a high-risk road whereas a 5-star rating is a low-risk road.

The strength and success of the Safe System approach are in addressing the interrelationship between the road user, the vehicle and the road. It is based on a solid foundation of Road Safety Management – one component of which is Community Mobilization and Engagement.

In accordance with the evidence and practices around the world that are used to determine excellence in road safety in the community, the following criteria have been identified as being worthy of a 5-star rating.

  • An effective and efficient Road Safety Management Program:
  1. Create a management committee of stakeholders and partners to coordinate, develop, implement and monitor priority road safety programs.
  2. Develop a vision and mission for the committee and programs.
  3. Establish target behaviours, programs and monitor evaluation activities to ensure programs stay on track, with a focus on outcomes, not just outputs.
  4. Identify sustainable funding sources.
  • Safe vehicles:
  1. Develop Fleet Safety Policies.
  2. Lobby Provincial and Federal Members of Parliament and vehicle manufacturers to include vehicle safety features as standard.
  3. Promote safe vehicles and Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS) in newsletters and at local events and encourage the adoption of these systems by Council in relation to the purchase of safe vehicles.
  4. Deliver public education about the features of a safe vehicle to enable residents to make informed choices when purchasing their next vehicle. These efforts should highlight how ADAS features can improve road safety (e.g., advanced braking systems have the potential to prevent a crash or mitigate the severity of the crash) as well as the limitations of these features.
  5. Vehicle safety is key to addressing road casualty reduction goals and targets. Use the above strategies to increase consumer demand for safe vehicles in your community.
  • Safe roads, roadsides and travel speeds:
  1. Plan safe road transport systems including the incorporation of lower speed limits in appropriate locations and public transport systems.
  2. Engineer roads to create forgiving roadsides, install sealed shoulders and shoulder rumble strips, undertake road safety audits, and identify and address black spots.
  3. Analyze data to understand crashes and risk and prioritize road works.
  4. Promote the importance of achievements increasing safe roads locally through media releases, advertising, newsletters and websites.
  5. Consult with and inform the community about safe roads to increase understanding and support.
  6. Plan residential areas to include lower travel speeds, prioritize the needs of pedestrians, cyclists, and public transport users, and those who use alternative mobility options and generate community support.
  7. Undertake urban planning, placing a priority on safety. Implement policies that promote compact urban design.
  8. Encourage the community to demand/request safe speeds and foster community action.
  9. Encourage residents to request speed enforcement and share speed monitoring data with the police.
  10. Engineer local roads to encourage safe speeds.
  11. Advocate for lower speed limits, introducing treatments that reduce speeds.
  12. Demonstrate where lower speed limits can benefit the community and, implement programs such as the Pace Car project and Speed Watch to raise community awareness of travel speeds.
  13. Where possible, separate different road users from vehicle traffic, especially vulnerable road users.
  • Safe road users:
  1. Promote road rules and new changes through Council communications, events, promotions and displays.
  2. Build positive relationships with local police to encourage and support enforcement initiatives.
  3. Promote the benefits of driver education and graduated driver license programs, specifically supervised hours for novice drivers, and parental involvement.
  4. Provide public education about road safety issues, particularly focused on sharing the road with vulnerable road users. Education focused on how vulnerable road users can best protect themselves and safely interact with and be aware of their surroundings should be included.
  5. Emphasize the priority issues of speeding, non-use of occupant restraints, distracted driving and impaired driving.
  6. Develop appropriate road safety policies and committees to provide leadership and input on the road safety strategy.
  7. Foster community support for road safety by maintaining relationships and the use of inclusive initiatives.
  8. Build a healthy road safety culture. (See below for more details.)
  • Promote an effective and efficient post-crash response system:
  1. Rapid provision of emergency medical care and rapid movement of injured casualties from the scene of a collision to an appropriate healthcare facility. Prompt medical responses and care reduces the incidence of short-term disability and dramatically improves long-term health outcomes.
  2. Many fatal injuries may be prevented, or their severity reduced by adequate pre-hospital trauma care.

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What is road safety culture and why is it a vital component of effective road safety programs?

Road Safety Culture is an emerging concept that emphasizes the role of social factors in culture and their influence on ways that people prioritize safety and respond to interventions.

“The goal of the road safety or traffic safety culture paradigm is to develop a process for changing values and attitudes, so that safety is part of every transportation decision, whether individual or organizational. This can be described as a social climate in which road safety is highly valued and rigorously pursued.”2

Traffic Safety Culture in the US

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety in the US has reviewed many articles on this topic and found that there does not appear to be any consensus on a definition; that no society reflects one homogenous culture; and that safety culture is multi-dimensional.3 There do appear, however, to be some common themes:

  • Road safety is a priority.
  • Social institutions are held accountable for increasing road safety.
  • Road safety is valued by community members and is a recognized goal.
  • Road safety is monitored to track outcomes and achieve improvements.
  • Individuals engage in behaviours that protect themselves and other road users.
  • Policies that promote reduced road deaths and injuries receive broad public support.

These values are supported by concrete government actions such as:

  • Increased government attention to road safety.
  • Strict monitoring and control of impaired drivers and other limits on freedoms to keep all road users safe.
  • Promotion and reinforcement of provincial/territorial licensing restrictions for young and novice drivers.
  • Support for enhanced enforcement of road safety laws, including photo enforcement, particularly in high-risk locations.
  • Investment in road safety.
  • Using tangible road concerns data to address road safety issues and provide positive responses to residents’ concerns.
  • Seatbelt laws are implemented and consistently enforced.
  • Evidence-based road safety policies are adopted.

Road users in such communities:

  • Are unlikely to drive aggressively.
  • Do not drive while impaired and would prevent others from doing so.
  • Do not condone speeding, distracted driving or fatigued driving.
  • Believe schools should actively promote road safety and model safe behaviours.
  • Support restrictions on teen driving.
  • Comply with seatbelt and child-restraint legislation.
  • Are interested and talk about road safety information.
  • Support police enforcement and traffic calming measures and understand and welcome reduced speeds where deemed appropriate.

A cornerstone of an effective community road safety program is the development of a road safety culture shared by its members. This ideology is embraced by the Safe System approach which integrates strategies that address both the physical (roads, vehicles) and behavioural (people) hazards in the transportation system. In response, this approach integrates traditional methods (engineering, enforcement, and education) to achieve increased safety by safer design in roads, vehicles, and people. In this context, new strategies to understand and transform culture will make people safe by nature by making safe speeds part of their social identities.

Traffic Safety Culture in the City of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

The City of Edmonton has adopted the Vision Zero philosophy. To assess the traffic safety culture in the city and local area, in 2014, they completed their first survey of residents regarding attitudes, beliefs and perceptions about several road safety issues. This survey consisted of a large-scale telephone survey as well as a complementary online survey component. The purpose of the survey was to collect original data on the attitudes, perceptions and behaviours of road users as they relate to traffic safety. The objective was to acquire an empirically-based understanding of traffic safety culture in the Edmonton region. The results of the survey are being used to establish a baseline measure against which changes in traffic safety culture can be measured over time. This baseline and subsequent surveys will allow for the systematic monitoring and evaluation of traffic safety culture in the city as new and innovated countermeasures are implemented. 4

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Who are the potential stakeholders and partners involved in community road safety programs?

There are many stakeholders and partners who can help to promote road safety in communities in a variety of ways. These entities may vary greatly across communities; however, all of these groups can participate in initiatives and leverage their respective strengths to support their own community road safety strategy.

Successful community programs rely on a shared understanding of the problem and potential solutions. A good starting place is to discuss the following questions with other community members and entities to learn about different perspectives regarding community road safety:

  • Who is part of my community?
  • Who are active leaders, organizations and members in my community who effect change?
  • Who has influence over community priorities and initiatives?
  • Who is most at risk in the community for road deaths and injuries?
  • Who else in the community has an interest in road safety?
  • What is unique about our community?
  • What are the strengths of the community that help to achieve positive change?
  • What are the common interests of my community?

These questions can help identify who should be involved in defining and solving road safety problems. Individual perceptions about the importance of some road safety issues may differ, so it is helpful to establish a representative group that includes all relevant community groups. It can also assist in identifying common interests and areas where there is already consensus and also help motivate others to come to the table.

Further information about the role of partners and stakeholders can be found in Module 4.

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  1. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) (2021) Fatality Facts 2019: Urban/rural comparison. Retrieved from
  2. Ward, N.W., Otto, J., & Linkenbach, J., (2018) Traffic Safety Culture Primer. Retrieved from:
  3. Traffic Safety Culture AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. (2007). Traffic Safety Culture in the United States: The Journey Forward. Washington, DC: AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
  4. Thue, L., & Grekul, J., (2016) Edmonton and Area Traffic Safety Culture Survey: Summary of Key Findings 2016. Retrieved from:


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