The need for safety on the road has been a very concerning topic for a very long time. The truth is, every 25 seconds, someone dies on the roads. The death toll on the roads for last year reached a staggering 1,2 million people. In the United States alone, 34,064 people died in the last year with a count of 10.6 people per 100k.
Sweden’s solution for this problem is called ‘Vision Zero’, where ‘Zero’ stands for the aimed number of deaths in traffic. Although they haven’t come to this number yet, their efforts in improving the traffic conditions and laws have placed them in WHO’s lightest category counting a number of 0 to 4 deaths per 100k people. In fact, the number of deaths per 100k in Sweden reached to only 2,8 people last year!
So what exactly is Vision Zero?
Vision Zero was an idea conceived in 1994 and has become part of Sweden’s Road Traffic Safety Bill ever since. The idea behind Vision Zero states that errors are an inevitable part of human nature and that instead of correcting people, the greatest effort should be put in improving the traffic conditions. This means putting the greatest responsibility on road engineers instead of the drivers and all other people who are part of the traffic safety problem.
Vision Zero does not focus on eliminating traffic accidents altogether. As Matts-Åke Belin states in his interview for Citylab, “…the accident is not the major problem. The problem is that people get killed or seriously injured.” The main focus that Vision Zero has is eliminating deaths and serious injuries by reducing the impact these accidents may have on the people involved.
Some of the changes Vision Zero involves are a reduction in driving speed in urban areas to 30kmph (or 18.6mph) and the introduction of roundabouts instead of intersections. Belin explains these two changes in a very simple way. Concerning the speed limit, Belin states that “…if you get hit by a car at 50 the risk for a fatal accident is more than 80 percent. But it is less than 10 percent when you have 30 kilometers per hour.”
The roundabouts are not only implemented to reduce deaths on the intersections by driving past the red light or turning right when pedestrians have the green light. It is also there to reduce the driving speed. Belin points to the need for roads which would not make it easy to drive fast even if you wanted to. In addition speed bumps, roundabouts require slower driving speed by design.
Enforcement doesn’t play the greatest role in Sweden’s traffic safety.
Enforcement focuses primarily on the idea that people should ‘behave’ when driving and should be punished if they don’t. Sweden takes a different turn on this idea. Although enforcement is present and plays a role in Sweden, the biggest role is given to engineering.
The role of the police has its own importance, but as Belin says, “If you have a very dedicated police staff and they think it’s the most important thing, then you can be quite effective working with police. But I don’t think you will get a safe system. You will reduce risk, but you will not achieve a safe system.”
Vision Zero’s primary focus is thus knowledge and experience in designing and developing a traffic system with all the components essential for road safety. The approach for each local initiative is meant to be holistic, which means there are no preset solutions that would apply for every area.
A very curious fact regarding Sweden’s enforcement is the use of cameras. Sweden has one of the largest camera systems in the world, per population, but, as Belin explains, these cameras serve to “nudge” people, not catch them. Belin says that this method has increased the compliance on the roads from 50 to more than 80 or 90 percent.
“We reduce the speed, but we don’t catch people. And we don’t earn any money. It’s an investment for us.” The truth is that the Swedish government is not trying to make profit out of people’s errors. On the contrary, the system’s aim is to create a safer place on the roads through collaboration and responsibility and many of the enforcement methods aim to remind people of the same.
Will this become possible outside Sweden?
The good news is that Vision Zero aims to spread as an idea accepted worldwide. They offer help in the construction of a safe system for every country and hold symposiums for the same purpose. Such a symposium was held in New York and NY is pursuing a version of Vision Zero.
Vision Zero could mean a potential end of road deaths worldwide. Perhaps we will see that day where all the people involved in the traffic will be able to coexist freely and safely very soon!
www.visionzeroinitiative.com (Retreived 16 Jan 2017)
http://www.who.int/violence_injury_prevention/road_traffic/death-on-the-roads/en/ (Retreived 16 Jan 2017)
http://www.citylab.com/commute/2014/11/the-swedish-approach-to-road-safety-the-accident-is-not-the-major-problem/382995/?utm_source=SFTwitter (Retreived 16 Jan 2017)