“O teach me how I should forget to think”; Safe Systems, human factors, institutions and a Montague Street bridge crash

Vision Zero and the Safe Systems approach are part of the recent shift in road safety engineering towards networks that are more forgiving of human errors. These new approaches challenge earlier attitudes where ‘driver error’ was considered a major, but unavoidable cause of road trauma. However, it is unclear whether the researchers and practitioners developing these new approaches have successfully engaged with the legal profession to bring traffic law along, together with the field of road safety, though this transition. Traffic enforcement and the legal processes to deter and punish violations are an important input to the “alert and compliant road users” (PIARC 2015) at the centre of the Safe System approach. However, road rules exist in an adversarial justice system built on concepts of negligence and duty of care. Whether road safety thinking aiming to be “more forgiving of human error” (PIARC 2015) is compatible with, or is being adopted by, the current legal system remains unclear. This paper explores a recent, high profile crash at the Montague Street bridge in South Melbourne. It uses case study methodology and a textual analysis of the judge’s sentencing remarks to explore how the laws of negligence might overlap or conflict with research knowledge about human factors and the driving task, and the Safe Systems approach. The paper does not seek to judge, comment on or otherwise give detailed opinion on the legal system or the outcomes of the case in question. Rather, it finds that current road safety research may not be fully informing or have been fully incorporated into traffic law or the way the legal system generates outcomes. Conclusions and directions for further research are also detailed, including a suggestion for greater engagement by the field of road safety engineering with that of law.


  • English

Media Info

  • Pagination: 18 p
  • Monograph Title: 41st Australasian Transport Research Forum (ATRF), 30 September to 2 October 2019, Canberra, ACT

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01733424
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Source Agency: ARRB Group Limited
  • Files: ITRD, ATRI
  • Created Date: Mar 16 2020 12:01PM