In 1986, Firebird Software developed Mad Nurse, a video game for the Commodore 64. The premise of the game was simple: You are a nurse in a multilevel nursery, and your job is to keep the infants safe. Your charge – put the babies in the crib – is easy enough. But the perils are endless, including knives, poison, toilet bowls to climb into, and an elevator shaft. As the levels become more and more difficult, the end result of Mad Nurse is disastrous.
The historic spot location approach to address traffic fatalities has similarities to Mad Nurse. We identify locations of recent severe crashes, “fix them,” and then move on to the next location.
And the next.
The situation gets worse over time as road users make poor choices more often. The results can be a group of exhausted traffic safety engineers and little change to the overall number of roadway fatalities.
Systemic safety solutions flip the script, focusing on predictable crash types instead of random individual locations, which has proven time and time again to reduce the number and severity of crashes.
I’ve promoted systemic safety for more than a decade now, and since that time it has been picked up by State and local agencies and the Federal Highway Administration Office of Safety, who has done a nice job promoting a risk-based systemic approach in recent years. For more information, check out FHWA’s Systemic Approach to Safety website.