Vision Zero: The Plan to Eliminate Road Fatalities

Back in 1997, Sweden adopted the concept of Vision Zero. The Swedish approach to road safety is a straightforward and powerful initiative that can be summarized in a single sentence: No loss of life is acceptable.Admittedly, when I first started learning about Vision Zero, which has been gaining traction in European countries as well as in many cities in the United States, I was skeptical. Achieving zero traffic fatalities sounds a bit like the advocate’s version of a beauty pageant contestant’s wish of achieving world peace. However, after digging in to the results in Sweden and in cities in the US that have adopted Vision Zero, it is clear that the initiative is having an impact.

Before discussing the results, however, it is important to understand the approach. Traditionally, infrastructure has been designed for maximum capacity and mobility, not safety, and the responsibility for safety has been on the user, according to the Vision Zero Initiative. In the systems approach that defines Vision Zero, the responsibility of safety is shifted from the user to the system itself. As humans are fallible, Vision Zero emphasizes creating a transportation system, including infrastructure design, vehicle technology, education, and enforcement, that takes this human fallibility into account.Is it working? Compare the percentage of road deaths in Sweden to the percentage of road deaths in the US: 3 out of 100,000 to 12.3 out of 100,000, according to the Center for Active Design. Thanks to reduced speed limits in urban areas, pedestrian zones, and physical barriers that separate bicycles and automobiles, Sweden experienced a record low in road fatalities in 2013 despite the fact that both the number of cars owned and the number of miles driven have doubled in the country since 1970.
Source: Vision Zero Initiative
Those statistics are promising for pedestrians, cyclists, drivers, politicians, and transportation planners alike. And cities in the US are getting onboard. In New York City, Mayor de Blasio has signed legislation that supports NYC’s Vision Zero Initiative, including legislation that lowered the default speed limit in New York City from 30 mph to 25 mph in 2014. Mayor Muriel Bowser has officially stated her commitment to Vision Zero in the District of Columbia, and more than twenty government agencies are engaged in the initiative in DC, including the District Department of Transportation. In San Francisco, leaders have identified the year 2024 as their deadline for eliminating all road deaths as part of the City by the Bay’s Vision Zero Initiative.Is eliminating fatalities a lofty goal? Yes, yes it is. However, whether you believe that the ultimate goal of achieving zero road deaths is attainable or not, the approach and mindset of Vision Zero is valuable. States Professor Claes Tingvall, Director of Traffic Safety for the Swedish National Road Administration, “every crash with serious injuries or fatalities is something you need to carefully look at and say, ‘what was wrong here? What should I have done – not the citizen what should I have done as a professional and responsible person in the system?'” As humans, we will never be perfect sharers of the road, operators of bicycles, or adherers of crosswalks. However, if we, as individuals, as advocacy organizations, and as communities, support systems that address road safety from the top down, we may be able to dramatically reduce serious injuries and fatalities, and eventually achieve Vision Zero.To learn more, I highly recommend visiting the Vision Zero Initiative site and watching the short and informative film featured on the homepage.While a few clips lean a bit too close to fear mongering for my taste, I still feel that the video does a solid job of summarizing the Vision Zero Initiative. Please enjoy.

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