Although it has never been a real top priority, road safety is an important issue in the Netherlands and much progress has been made. In the last 50 years, the country experienced an enormous growth in population (+30%) and in kilometers travelled (+300%), but the mortality rate dropped by 80%. Many effective interventions were taken. Over time, new insights in traffic risks and causes of crashes led to the adoption of a new road safety vision in the early 1990s: Sustainable Safety, the first attempt worldwide of a Safe System approach (1992). This vision was inspired by the UN-Brundtland report Our Common Future (1987) and applied to road safety. Its basis originated in the knowledge and experiences in the decades before.
In a sustainably safe road transport system, risks of crashes and serious injuries are drastically reduced or even eliminated by an infrastructure that is adapted to the limitations of human capacity by proper road design, by vehicles fitted with ways to simplify the tasks of man and constructed to protect the vulnerable human being as effectively as possible, and by road users who are adequately educated, informed, and, where necessary, controlled. If crashes still do occur, serious injuries must be excluded. The vision Sustainable Safety has been translated into a set of characteristics and into Sustainable Safety principles.
Sustainable Safety was welcomed by Dutch road safety professionals and received great political support. A massive implementation program was initiated and carried out as from 1995. Many stakeholders were engaged. An evaluation study covering the period 1998–2007 revealed a 30% reduction in the number of fatalities. Benefits of the investments were four times higher than costs. Sustainable Safety empowered and strengthened the Dutch road safety research community and heavily influenced the discourse on road safety in the country.
As from 2000, several developments (a different planning structure of road transport, less political priority for road safety – perhaps as a result of successes in the past – and decentralization of policies) caused that Sustainable Safety became less prominent and safety effects less visible. However, the vison and the principles remain a solid basis for making progress towards a casualty-free road transport system and to respond to new developments, such as a changing demography, changing transport modes and traffic patterns, and new technologies. Two more editions have been published (2005 and 2018). Results and impacts are being discussed.