Vision Zero: A Swedish approach to traffic safety
WINNIPEG, MB, Oct. 7, 2011/Troy Media/ – Last month I took a flight from Winnipeg to Washington and, not being someone who enjoys heights, expressed to a friend my trepidation about flying. He cheerfully informed me that I was statistically more likely to lose my life in a car accident then a plane crash. This well-known tidbit did little to settle my stomach before take-off, but did get me thinking about Canada’s traffic safety record.
There is good news and bad news when it comes to automobile fatalities in this country. The good news is that the number of deaths and serious injuries has declined over the first decade of the 21st century. The bad news is that, still, on average one Canadian loses their life every four hours in a car accident.
The total elimination of traffic deaths
Around 2,400 Canadians are killed every year on our roads and highways, or about seven deaths per 100,000 citizens. Globally, this is on the low end of national traffic mortality rates, but it is not at the very bottom. In Sweden, for example, there are about 355 deaths per year – just 3.7 for every 100,000 people. What is even more impressive regarding the Scandinavian country’s automobile fatality rate, however, is that in 1997 the national government developed the most ambitious road safety strategy in the world, which aims to see traffic deaths and debilitating injuries in Sweden completely eliminated by the year 2050.
At the core of this new plan, entitled Vision Zero, is the belief that the sanctity of human life takes priority over mobility and all other objectives of a road system. This is a departure from the conventional idea that lives and limbs can be assigned monetary values, which are then used to conduct a cost-benefit analysis to decide whether investing in measures that decrease the risk to users of a transportation network is worth the cost – both in terms of money spent and the potential impact on transportation efficiency. In the Swedish model, safety is not balanced against factors like the need for speed or a desire to use the cheapest available infrastructure; it is paramount.
In practice, this outlook has resulted in a notable change in how policymakers approach transportation safety. Traditionally, the major responsibility for road safety was on individual users rather than on the designers of the system itself. Road safety strategies therefore placed greater emphasis on encouraging cautious driving habits through licensing, testing, education, and publicity. In contrast, Vision Zero shifts the focus from attempting to reduce accidents caused by individuals to instead eliminating the possibility of death or chronic impairment when crashes do occur.
Swedish planners recognize that because humans make mistakes, accidents are inevitable, so they believe the transportation system should be designed in such a way as to ensure these eventual collisions are not fatal. On city streets where drivers are in interaction with pedestrians, for example, vehicle speeds should be reduced to a point where someone on foot can survive being struck by a car (about 30 km/h). As well, vehicles ought to be built with seatbelt interlockers – that will not allow the car to start until seatbelts are fastened – and highways, while still having top speeds of 100+ km/h, should be designed with barriers and other safeguards meant to avoid head-on collisions.. .
About the AuthorBemjamin Gillies is a columist for Troy Media.
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