In 1997, the Swedish Parliament adopted a new long-term goal and strategy for road safety, Vision Zero. The goal is that no one should be killed or seriously injured through a road accident.
Vision Zero is an ethical stance stating that it is not acceptable for human mistakes to have fatal consequences. It can be viewed as a paradigm shift, where the ultimate responsibility for road safety is shifted from the individual road-user to those who design the transport system, for example, road management bodies, vehicle manufacturers, legislators, commercial transport operators, the police authority and others. The responsibility of the road-user is to comply with laws and regulations.
Humans make mistakes
Traditional road safety management has put a lot of effort into accident prevention, and most accidents are caused by road-users. The aim of such strategies is therefore to try to create the perfect human who always does the right thing in all situations. If an accident happens, the blame can almost always be put on a road-user.
Vision Zero challenges this approach. Instead, it is assumed that there are no perfect humans. It is human to make a mistake, but mistakes should not cost a person's life or health. Instead, much effort is being put into designing the transport system so that accidents will not lead to serious consequences. The focus is on the roads, the vehicles and the stakeholders who use the road transport system, rather than on the behaviour of the individual road-user.
From vision to action
Sweden has been successful in moving from vision to action. For just over two decades, different stakeholders in Sweden have been proactively working towards the goal of zero fatalities and serious injuries on the roads. For example, many roads have been equipped with a central barrier to prevent head-on accidents; the police can control the speed of cars with cameras; many four-road junctions have been replaced with roundabouts; the automotive industry is investing in safer cars; and when the traffic environment in urban areas is designed, the focus is on vulnerable road-users.
The preconditions and limitations of humans have been the guiding factors of this work. The human body can withstand a certain amount of external force, but as speed increases, so does the risk of being killed in an accident.
In Sweden, the number of road accident fatalities has been halved
The work has yielded results. When Vision Zero was adopted by the Swedish Parliament, the number of fatalities caused by road accidents was 7 per 100,000 inhabitants. At that time, this was a low figure in a global perspective, and many people were sceptical about it being possible to reduce the figure even further. Since then, the number of traffic fatalities in Sweden has been more than halved, at the same time as the volume of traffic has increased dramatically. However, the vision has still not been fully realised. In recent years, the decrease in fatalities has levelled out and now new efforts are needed.
Vision Zero has aroused interest in several countries
Sweden's Vision Zero has inspired road safety interventions in several other countries. The first off the mark were our Nordic neighbours. In 2014, New York adopted its own Vision Zero which has led to good results. Since then, another twenty cities in the USA have followed suit.
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