27 February 2005

27.02.05. "Vision Zero" plan in Sweden

Editor's note: This short background piece on the Swedish Vision Zero program helps us with many interesting lessons and parallels with all that we are hoping to accomplish/support here. Clearly we should be seeking creative links.
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Sweden: A Road Safety Model with Global Potential

Road safety does not need to be expensive. In some regions, simply placing a wire rope down the middle of a highway can reap large-scale, immediate results, and save lives.

In fact, Dr. Claes Tingvall, the Director of Traffic Safety for the Swedish National Road Administration, believes developing countries can spend an extra 1% in cost and reduce fatalities by 90%. “Safety is very seldom expensive. The expensive thing is to modify what you did wrong in the beginning,” Tingvall believes.

Tingvall has spent more than 15 years and written close to 100 scientific articles on injury epidemiology, car occupant safety, and safety policies for multiple countries. He believes road safety is the responsibility of what he calls the “professional society,” which includes governments and the private sector.

To prove his point, Tingvall compares road safety to workplace management. While the employee or citizen, must follow guidelines, it is the responsibility of the employer, or government, to provide a safe environment. This premise is behind Tingvall’s Vision Zero plan in Europe, a concept that puts the mandate on the “professional society” to deliver safe roads to the citizens.

The Vision Zero plan has four components:

1. Human life is not something you can trade off for benefits of road transport systems. Human life is the paramount concern.

2. The professional society, politicians and the private sector, has responsibility for the inherent safety of the road transport system, and the citizen should follow the road regulations.

3. The safety of the road transport system should be based on the failing human, not the perfect human. Designs should allow for human vulnerability.

4. The driving force for change is the citizen demand and expectation to stay alive. Road safety should not be an economic issue, but stem from demands of individual citizens.

Tingvall said much of the European Union adopted this concept, at least in principle, and as many as five countries have taken it to parliamentary levels.

Challenge to Change Mindsets

The biggest challenge Tingvall sees is how to convince the professional society that road safety “can” and “should” be re-shaped, and that traffic deaths and injuries are not the consequence of mobility and modern society.

Once that is accomplished, the system can be controlled. Speed, he says is nothing more than kinetic energy. Improving roads with simple mechanisms at the beginning of design may be contrary to the instinct of engineers, but must be incorporated into designs during nascent stages, or subsequent costs will be enormous.

In addition, Tingvall supports managing the incoming vehicle fleet in countries and government dialogue with the auto industry for standards on car safety.

Design and planning for both roads and vehicles must be coupled with regulations and enforcement for maximum benefit.

Lead by Example

Tingvall believes that those working in thee health sector to set an example for the rest of the world. This sector, he said, responsible for an estimated 10-15% of many economies, can set the standard for safe road practices and advocating a safe road environment. If employers in the health sector would demand safe road environments, and require employees who transport goods to use safe vehicles, and strictly abide by laws, they could set an important example for the rest of the world.

Tingvall has spent time spreading his message throughout the world articles and speeches that explain the managerial mindset governments need to understand to effect change in road safety. Many countries come to Sweden for training in road safety practices, such as those in the former Russian and Baltic states, and countries such as Poland.

Sweden has realized road safety results since it adopted Vision Zero, and Tingvall believes that this approach, sometimes seen as radical, can be adopted in both developed and developing countries. For change to happen, all citizens of the world should demand road safety.

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Dr. Claes Tingvall is the Director of Traffic Safety for the Swedish National Road Administration. He received his doctorate in medical science in 1987 from the Karolinska Institute. He has also been a professor and director, from 1998-2001, at Monash University Accident Research Centre in Victoria, Australia. Dr. Tingvall has authored approximately 100 scientific articles in journals and books, mainly in injury epidemiology and car occupant protection/car safety rating, and safety policy. He has been involved in road safety through his employments at the Folksam Traffic Safety Research, the Swedish Traffic Safety Office, the Monash University Accident Research Centre, and the Swedish National Road Administration.

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