I’m looking across at the mainland again this week towards Sweden and the country’s Vision Zero programme.
Sweden is held up as a progressive nation when it comes to dealing with road death, but it wasn’t always the case with road death being treated as an everyday occurrence. The change in approach came in 1995 when five young people were killed in a crash on the E4 motorway in Stockholm. The driver of the car they were travelling in ended up crashing it into a lighting column foundation and it was this event which started the country on the road to Vision Zero.
The incident caused Claes Tingvall, the traffic safety director at the Swedish Road Administration, to start thinking about the country’s approach to road safety which placed the blame for crashes with victims. Tingvall begun to think about the issue after he was told that the foundation was simply going to be replaced without any thought about preventing a future occurrence.
Tingvall and his team wondered why it was only the road system where victims of crashes were blamed rather than the system as was the case with aviation where risks are systematically designed out. His team proposed designing out what is dangerous.
He considered three basic points which are the basis of Vision Zero;
- Life is more important than anything else,
- We [professionals] are responsible for safety,
- We [professionals] know what to do.
By 1997, the Swedish Parliament adopted Vision Zero (despite some being against it) as policy. The simple position was that nobody should be killed or seriously injured on the road network and that it was the job of professionals to design safe systems – both vehicles and roads.
Tingvall and his team started to systematically look at what was killing people on Swedish roads and it turned out to be head-on collisions on high-speed single carriageway roads. The traditional solution was to dual the roads and build central reservation barriers, but clearly this is a very expensive undertaking in terms of land and construction, as well as not being needed in many cases from a capacity point of view. Tingvall proposed converting the roads to 2+1 operation.