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May 16, 2014

Sweden’s Vision Zero to Eliminate Traffic Fatalities

Vision Zero is Sweden’s plan for road safety. It’s built on the idea that no loss of life is acceptable.

In 1997, Swedish parliament made Vision Zero a part of the country’s law, promising to eliminate road fatalities and injuries altogether. “We simply do not accept any deaths or injuries on our roads,” says Hans Berg of the national transport agency. Swedes believe they can have mobility and safety at the same time.

And Sweden is on track to make their vision a reality. The number of cars has doubled on Swedish roads since 1970, but accident deaths have fallen by 80%. On average, three out of 100,000 people die in traffic-related accidents each year, compared with 6.8 per 100,000 in Canada, and 10.4 per 100,000 in the United States.

Sweden’s roads are now among the safest worldwide. How?

Vision Zero takes an entirely different approach to road safety. Conventional transport systems are built with efficiency and capacity in mind, and accidents are the driver’s fault if something goes wrong. But Vision Zero says human behavior must to be taken into account in road design and transport systems.

It’s built on the simple truth that people will always make mistakes, and that it’s up to road and traffic systems to protect us when human error prevails.

“In every situation a person might fail, the road system should not.”

Every crash with serious injuries or fatalities is something that professional planners and engineers must carefully look at, says Professor Claes Tingvall, Director of Traffic Safety with the Swedish National Road Administration. After a serious accident, these professionals must ask themselves “what went wrong?” and “what could I have done to prevent the injury or death?”

The onus is on the planners and engineers – not on the individual road users.

Tingvall says the solution is often simple. Sweden focuses on things like erecting lane barriers, diffusing busy traffic areas, and simplifying pedestrian zones. “You always come back to the very basic principles and they can be applied everywhere, wherever you go,” he says.

“There is no moral justification for any loss of life in traffic.”

The Vision Zero mentality has caught on across Sweden. People are starting to demand safer vehicles and road systems. Safety is becoming commercial.

Vision Zero has even made its way to North American shores. NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio has announced that it’s at the forefront of the city’s transportation and policing agendas. He is targeting 2024 as New York’s first year with no traffic deaths.

Let’s hope the plan continues westward. Vancouver has endeavored to become the Greenest City in the world by 2020. Why not set similar goals for road safety?

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