A Safe Systems Approach

The Isle of Man, as a self-governing jurisdiction with no direct roads connection to other areas is in an unique position in respect of its highways. Since the 1980’s, road traffic legislation has developed in a piecemeal fashion, and the approach to road safety has had an uncomfortable bedfellow with a strong culture of extreme motorsport. At times the line has become blurred, and for some years now, the Island has lacked a joined-up approach to reducing casualties and improving standards.

Road Safety cannot be the remit of any one agency. In the majority of progressive countries, there is an overarching Governmental strategy, supported by more parochial ones at a regional level. This ensures that sufficient resources are put in place at strategic level, and for more local needs, bespoke solutions can be designed and implemented.

Road traffic collisions (RTC’s) on the Isle of Man have hovered around a mean of 950 in number for several years now.

In relation to Fatal and Serious Collisions, an average year would see around six fatalities. This contrasts with a decade ago, where twelve fatalities was the expectation. Annually, around forty serious collisions occur, and although the definition of what constitutes serious can include a broken finger, many of these collisions involve life-changing injuries.

There was a sharp drop off in fatalities during 2006-2008, with the frequency being almost halved. However, the maintenance of that has been considerably helped both in advances in

‘golden hour’ medical care, and also huge leaps in vehicle crash-worthiness.

On an average of eight deaths per year over the last 15 years, this represents a cost of some £378m over the period. (see ‘Finance’, below)

The distribution of collisions, especially in the serious and fatal categories, has a reasonably predictable pattern; We will see a spike during the motorsport festivals involving motorcycles, and a significant proportion will occur around the roads that make up the TT Mountain Circuit. Within this, areas where there is no upper speed limit carry the greatest risk. Poor weather, especially snow, will lead to clusters of collisions, likely borne from either inexperience or failing to drive to the conditions. The only tactical option in respect of reducing these collisions at present is closure of roads, at considerable inconvenience to the public.

On any given day, roads policing issues can make up to 20 per cent of calls for service for the police. In an organisation that has seen a 20% reduction in front line staffing, any means by which this can be reduced will have a corresponding positive impact on improvements in other areas of service demand for the Constabulary. It is also of note that dedicated Roads Policing resources are now less than half of what they were in 2006.

In particular, the area of anti-social road use is time consuming but crucially important. When a member of the public has felt strongly enough about something they have witnessed, it is necessary to evaluate that ‘intelligence’ and deal with it appropriately. This may be as simple as a telephone call to the errant party to inform them that their driving has drawn attention, or may involve more serious intervention. However it is dealt with, it takes time and resources.

Finances on the Isle of Man, as with many other jurisdictions, are finite, and have to be prioritised across a whole range of essential services. The maintenance of the roads have invariably suffered, reducing the viability of many surfaces, and where collision hot-spots are identified, the likelihood of a major re-engineering project (Brandish, Windy Corner)is much lower than in the past. This is balanced against a reluctance to deal with some of these areas by imposition of speed limits. The Department of Infrastructure (DOI) works hard to effectively prioritise their works, but are invariably playing catch up, and are having to make some very stark risk-based choices.

As well as the impact on engineering, a reduction of available funding for any aspect of road safety improvement can in fact have a reverse effect in the overall public purse. Each and every road traffic collision has a cost. The most obvious ones are the emotional ones, especially in respect of the most serious on the scale. But in monetary terms, the figures are profound; c. £2m per fatal collision equates to £16m per annum, and in the region of £9.5m in respect of serious injury collisions. More detailed information can be found at A valuation of road accidents and casualties in Great Britain: Methodology note


The Isle of Man has developed its road traffic legislation with reference to the United Kingdom. This is a perfectly logical approach, as the roads environment is similar, and the vehicles that are used upon them are subject to the same Maintenance and Use requirements that prevail throughout the European Union. The additional benefit is that road users tend to recognise the similarities and behave accordingly, although some urban myths such as no speed limits whatsoever do prevail in some quarters.

There has been a degree of innovation within Manx Road Traffic legislation; the introduction of mobile phone prohibition is a good example. This has been countered in other areas by persistence with laws which do not appear to have an evidence base. (e.g. animal drawn vehicles) In addition, the failure to keep pace with changes in drink drive legislation has led to a ‘clunky’ interpretation of UK law which is costly when technology has to be continually adapted, rather than purchased off the shelf.

A cohesive approach to a Road Safety Strategy provides an opportunity to carry out a wholesale review of legislation. A suggested approach would be to mirror that taken with another area of law where harm prevention is crucial; misuse of drugs. Wholesale adoption of the UK Act has been beneficial, and taking a similar approach with Road Traffic Law, inserting subsections where things are notably different and need to remain so, would enable the enforcement agencies to exploit a wider range of initiatives.


The culture of the Isle of Man in relation to its road use is difficult to define. There is a perception in some quarters that every road user is massively influenced by our motorsport heritage, and that the right to drive at speed should be protected almost as passionately as the American right to bear arms. What is clear however, is that the road using community is extremely diverse, and is perhaps becoming more so. Cycling continues to grow in popularity, recreational and commuting use of motorcycles is a recognisable sub-set to name but two. Each of these has its own particular vulnerabilities, which tend to be addressed in isolation rather than with a ‘share the road’ approach.


Young drivers present a real challenge in terms of changing attitudes and behaviours. Although considerable work is done in the schools, there have been over the years a number of notable tragedies in which young lives have been lost, or blighted by a term in prison.

Options for Change

Other jurisdictions have had notable success in an holistic approach to road safety. Close to home, Ireland seeks to reduce its fatalities to 25 per million population by 2020. http://www.rsa.ie/Documents/About%20Us/RSA_STRATEGY_2013-2020%20.pdf . Further afield, even more ambitious strategies embed the ‘Safe System’ approach. This can be likened to the approach taken to disease eradication, seeking to ‘cut the chain’, by a myriad of integrated elements across analysis, research, design, attitude, education and most importantly, a starting point that the target has to be zero casualties.






Why the contribution is important

In a modern society, there must be a point where Governmental responsibility for the protection of Human Rights, and particularly the right to life, is defined in a living and breathing method which meets the strategic aim.


The benefits to society are overwhelming, in terms of emotional and economic impact. But beyond that, in a time when the Isle of Man must punch above its weight on the world stage, a new, creative, innovative and sometimes brave approach to road safety offers an unique opportunity for people to look positively at what we can achieve, and see it as a world leading example.

I am a former police officer, having been responsible for Roads Policing on the Isle of Man on two separate occasions. I am a police trained advanced driver, and Hon. President of the Isle of Man branch of IAM Roadsmart. I was a Road Death Senior Investigating Officer, and have led enquiries into a large number of fatal and serious road traffic collisions. I now operate a company providing performance car driving experiences on closed roads and race circuits. 


by DerekFlint on April 06, 2018 at 01:46PM

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  • Posted by Phil74 April 06, 2018 at 14:33

    Too little information on what a Safe System approach would actually mean in terms of time/cost/design/facilities/infrastructure requirements, etc. I would suggest an average of 8 deaths per annum is not excessive for a mixed rural/urban population area of 85,000, particularly given some of those include over enthusiastic visitors during TT/Grand Prix weeks. We can never afford to be a world leading example in anything, but we can improve safety by reducing the numbers of roads where there is an unlimited speed limit, e.g maybe mountain road only - all others to have 50/60 mph max., and by having all rural/unlit roads (or at least major routes) delineated by white road edge markings, so that in nighttime/rainy.misty conditions, drivers can drive between the reflective centre and edge delineation lines that will be reflected by their headlights.
  • Posted by Rob April 06, 2018 at 15:01

    8 deaths per annum per 85,000 is a terrible figure. South Glamorgan (who are last in the roadcrashindex.org dashboard) have 21 fatalities per 445,000 population. We are twice as bad with 1 fatality per year per 10625 residents compared to their 1 death per 21190.

    Safe Systems approach is evidence based backed up by sound research and positive cost benefits are also realised. Amongst other things cost of accident prevention is offset against the cost of responding and dealing with the aftermath of accidents.
  • Posted by Rob April 06, 2018 at 16:56

    For further reading on a safe systems approach, you should take a look at the following: https://escholarship.org/content/qt9qg3s59b/qt9qg3s59b.pdf Figure 1, spells out the system components in order of effectiveness.
  • Posted by DerekFlint April 06, 2018 at 16:59

    Phil - if it helps, Safe system works on an aspiration of zero fatalities, but accepts human fallibility. You can start with big hitters such as introducing speed limits, engineering changes and vehicle design improvements, then work further on improving driving standards, culture and attitude. Add into that, work with other road users in a similar vein, and you make big inroads to the goal.

    In any civilised society, any target other than zero for deaths on our roads has to be unacceptable.
  • Posted by RobH April 06, 2018 at 18:27

    Reading the info on the last 15 years statistics tells you that traditional road safety (media campaigns, etc.) hasn't worked. Safe systems has to be the starting point if we are serious about road harm reduction.

  • Posted by TarrooUshtey April 08, 2018 at 20:38

    The concept sounds good, but am I overly suspicious to worry that this is some sort of code for the introduction of more pettifogging legislation and micro-management of our lives? One of the joys of the IoM in my earlier years was the IoM culture of 'Not too many rules needed. So long as you can behave nicely and sensibly(ish), do as you wish. Idiots will be dealt with.' That has since been significantly eroded, largely by inept politicians who chose to to micro-meddle in our lives instead of looking after the basics; like looking after the public finances, without which everything else fails.

    Derek. It's very clear you have a genuine commitment to road safety (good). But I'm afraid you're going to have to do quite a bit to convince us that we need your 'system'. Especially so when you come from a police force which can't catch burglars and has allowed hard drugs too take root on the Island (failing to deal with the idiots).

    I'm open to persuasion. You could start by telling us what you would actually do, instead of garbled corporate systems speak.
  • Posted by TarrooUshtey April 08, 2018 at 20:45

    [Edit] 'Opaque' corporate systems speak. 'Garbled' was unfair. Oh, and 'to' take root, not 'too'.
  • Posted by Popeye April 08, 2018 at 22:23

    Young drivers are statistically most at risk (due to inexperience) as a result of a larger proportion of accidents they have to pay higher insurance premiums.

    Why not incentivise them by getting a percntage redction in their premiums if they attend advanced driving courses that can give them the tools to drive safely and responsibly.

    The cost of the course should not be more than the premium reductiion achieved (otherwise where is the incentive).
  • Posted by Popeye April 08, 2018 at 22:56

    Education and advice.

    Do the police road safety team go around the schools to "brief" the fifth year students (i.e. just before they are eligible for their driving tests) on road safety?

    Police RTA statistics are often cited, but what about hospital RTA statistics to supplement those - the real cost can then be more properly assessed, lessons better learned and education in specifics more easily determined/directed.

    Long term disability is far harder on the NHS/Islands funding than a fatal accident, there is a lot of mental anguish for all involved (I take my hat off to you dealing with it), emergency services and relatives in a fatal, but there is nothing more to be done other than clean up the mess and try to find out what caused it.

    A non fatal however might have fire crews cutting them out (6 or 8) police keeping the roads closed while it happens (4 or 6), ambulance crews taking them to hospital (2 or 4), a team of nurses and surgeons saving their life and rebuilding the person (4 or 8), blood transfusion collection (6 or 8) to give them blood while that happens, physiotherapists and consultants to help them regain some measure of mobility after hospital (4 or 6), maybe never being able to work again (income tax loss to the government, benefit payment cost to the government).

    Speed doesn't kill people, its always the sudden stop caused by the "error of judgement" that does the damage!

    Teach people how to avoid becoming that long term disability, to drive responsibly and with due consideration for ALL other road users (drivers, motorcyclists, horseriders, pedestrians), reduced speed comes naturally with all of that!

    MOT tests would at least ensure cars and motorcycles have an annual check for roadworthiness and lights are properly adjusted.

    Better education might help the drivers think "what if"

    Roads could also be made more roadworthy (small potholes attended before they become big potholes, white lines fixed before they become no lines, roadsign checks to see if they are still visible and not lost in overgrown hedges or verges.)

    It all costs money, but reducing the severity and the number of accidents has to be the desired outcome.

    If we can teach how this needs to be achieved.

    Which other countries have the smallest number of serious accidents per head of capita?

    How do they do it?

    Can we start to do something similar here?
  • Posted by DerekFlint April 11, 2018 at 14:17

    Tarroo et al

    Safe Systems approach isn't "mine"

    Its what the forward thinking civilised world is doing.

  • Posted by TarrooUshtey April 11, 2018 at 15:12

    Thanks for the reply Derek. Yep, I followed your earlier link and had a bit of a Google also. As I say, the concept sounds good. My reservations are about how the concept may be implemented on the IoM given the Island's gradual trend from laissez faire to over-government. I'd be more confident if the background material was "A Safe Systems 'lite' approach for small communities already struggling with over-government".
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