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Aiming for zero traffic fatalities

Photo: Carolina Byrmo

The mortality rate on Swedish roads has halved since the Vision Zero initiative/approach was launched twenty years ago. But much remains to be done.

Ask a regular Swedish road user today what he or she associates with the Vision Zero – and the answer is probably 2+1 roads. The median barrier divided roads, with their alternating lanes, have become the symbol for the Vision Zero. The roughly 4,000 kilometres that have been built are estimated to save around 100 lives a year.

Claes Tingvall is the father of the Vision Zero. As the newly appointed Traffic Safety Director at the Swedish Road Administration in the middle of the 1990s he introduced a new approach. The Swedish Road Administration had of course worked with road safety for many years. The death rate on Swedish roads had been decreasing since the 1960s despite growing traffic. But the Road Administration still considered it to be its job to work to prevent crashes, mainly by influencing the behaviour of road users.

“I was shocked over the mentality that prevailed. That crashes were subject to moralization and the cause was always sought in the actions of the victims.”

Claes Tingvall felt that it was important to go further and actively integrate the knowledge that actually existed around various crash factors, identify the connections and let them affect the design and function of roads, vehicles and traffic.

Vision Zero has saved many lives in Sweden. But still around 1.2 million people die every year in traffic worldwide. This is more than die in war and conflicts. If nothing is done, traffic fatalities will be the seventh largest cause of death worldwide by 2030, according to one forecast from the WHO.

Today Claes Tingvall works at ÅF. Together with is colleagues he continues his stubborn work that no one must die in traffic.

“To turn the negative trend we are seeing worldwide, many more countries have to adopt a vision zero approach and work holistically to achieve it. It’s important that we share the experiences we have from various solutions. But it’s even more important that we provide the whole picture and also share our experiences of choosing a vision, and making sure that all of the different players commit to it and contribute to achieve it,” says Maria Håkansson at ÅF.

The continued work towards the Vision Zero will entail substantial challenges. Both to reach zero dead or severely injured in the traffic and to reach the Global Goals set by the UN. Maria Håkansson sees a major opportunity in creating significantly more attractive urban environments – if only we had the courage to make different decisions.

“We need to let go of the forecast-controlled planning and to a much higher extent work with goal-oriented planning. Just like we did with Vision Zero in the road safety area, we now need to think holistically and get all affected players to commit to working for tomorrow’s society to be free from noise and fossil fuels and that the air should be clean,” she says.

Read our book How dreams can become reality- Vision Zero 20 years