University of York researchers call for ‘zero tolerance’ on road deaths

Posted on 7 June 2006

Academics at the University of York are calling on the Government to adopt a bold new strategy to reduce deaths and serious injuries on British roads to zero.

This is the conclusion of a detailed investigation of the Swedish "Vision Zero" road safety policy, carried out on behalf of the UK Department of Transport, by the Stockholm Environment Institute, based at the University.

The researchers suggest a range of measures to cut road deaths and injuries including a 20mph urban speed limit, tougher sentencing of dangerous drivers and a new accident investigation unit independent of the police.

Vision Zero was adopted by the Swedish Parliament in 1997 and has taken road safety in a new direction by emphasising that:

  • road safety is an ethical issue and deaths and serious injuries are not acceptable
  • society does not expect people to die or be seriously injured while flying or while working and it should be the same with using roads
  • it is possible to design the road environment and vehicles to make sure that any ‘mistakes’ that are made do not result in death

Sweden is the only country in the world to move in this direction, though others are considering adopting the Swedish approach.

The Stockholm Environment Institute's report was based on detailed evidence gathering which included interviews with key policy makers and officials in Sweden, interviews with European stakeholders, focus groups with over 200 people in 15 locations in England and an on-line survey of UK road safety professionals.

The report concludes that:

  • Vision Zero has had a significant impact on re-invigorating efforts to eliminate deaths and serious injuries on the roads in Sweden
  • Vision Zero is generally welcomed by citizens in the UK who see it as a goal which road safety policy should aim to achieve
  • Policy makers and professionals in the UK are less enthusiastic about Vision Zero
  • Vision Zero has the potential to produce in the UK cumulative benefits of approximately £100 billion over a 10-year period.
  • Vision Zero has the potential to deliver on a large number of policy objectives including reducing air pollution, greenhouse gases, road traffic danger and improving the quality of life and sustainability of our communities.
  • Respondents to the on-line survey identified some potential problems including the lack of realism in the Vision Zero concept and the unacceptability of large scale barrier segregation on highways

Our report looks in detail at the radical new direction in road safety set by Swedish politicians and professionals, and concludes that it has a lot to offer Britain

Professor John Whitelegg

Professor John Whitelegg, of the Stockholm Environment Institute at York, said: "Swedish road safety policy is based on the maxim that the only acceptable level of death on the roads is zero. Our report looks in detail at the radical new direction in road safety set by Swedish politicians and professionals, and concludes that it has a lot to offer Britain.

"Setting a target of zero has the potential to galvanise action on every front and in every profession and simply transfers everyday practice in aviation to the road environment. Our research shows that the public are ready to move in this direction and want decision makers and policy makers to be much bolder in eliminating death and serious injury from the road environment"

The report recommends five key policy areas to secure improved performance in road safety:

  • Speed control (20mph in all urban areas)
  • Accident investigation agency modelled on the Swedish experience and independent of the police
  • Law reform to deal with citizen concern about severe outcomes being dealt with ‘leniently’
  • Road traffic reduction
  • Urban design to lock in danger reduction for vulnerable users

Notes to editors:

  • The full report and executive summary can be accessed at www.sei.se/visionzero
  • The Stockholm Environment Institute is an independent, international research institute specialising in sustainable development and environment issues. It works at local, national, regional and global policy levels. The Institute has its headquarters in Stockholm with a network structure of permanent and associated staff worldwide and centres in Boston (USA), Tallinn (Estonia) and Bangkok (Thailand) with the York centre being part of the University of York.
  • The report was produced by the Stockholm Environment Institute, University of York under a contract with the Department for Transport as part of the "New Horizons" programme. Any views expressed in this report are not necessarily those of the Department for Transport.
  • Vision Zero or close derivatives of Vision Zero are under active consideration for adoption as national road safety policies in Finland, Switzerland, Norway and Austria.

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