Vision Zero: Learning from Sweden’s Successes

The concept of Vision Zero first originated in Sweden in 1997, when the Swedish parliament adopted it as the official road policy. Founded on the belief that loss of life is not an acceptable price to pay for mobility, Vision Zero takes a systems approach to enhancing safety. Rather than exclusively faulting drivers and other users of the transportation system, Vision Zero places the core responsibility for accidents on the overall system design, addressing infrastructure design, vehicle technology, and enforcement. The approach has resulted in noteworthy successes – Sweden has one of the lowest annual rates of road deaths in the world (3 out of 100,000 as compared to 12.3 in the United States). Not only that, but fatalities involving pedestrians have fallen almost 50% in the last five years.

According to professor Claus Tingvall, one of the architects of Sweden’s Vision Zero policy, system design should be based on the premise that humans are fallible, and will make mistakes. “If you take a nuclear power station, if you take aviation, if you take a rail system, all of them are based on [the idea that] they are operated by people who can make a mistake.” The same understanding should influence roadway design, where traffic calming, well-marked crosswalks and pedestrian zones, and separated bike lanes can help minimize the consequences of a mistake. According to Vision Zero philosophy, “In every situation a person might fail. The road system should not.”

Vision Zero policies have already been adopted in Norway and Denmark and are gaining traction across the U.S. Shortly after his inauguration, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a Vision Zero goal of eliminating traffic deaths and injuries in the city. The NYC action plan uses a multi-pronged approach that emphasizes enhanced enforcement, improved street design, and legislative proposals dealing with safety. The plan cites successes from several U.S. states that have implemented similar approaches with dramatic results, including a 43% reduction in traffic fatalities in Minnesota, a 48% reduction in Utah, and a 40% decrease in Washington State.

The public health imperative behind Vision Zero is clear: increasing the safety of our streets not only saves lives, but also makes it easier and more enticing for people to engage in daily physical activity by walking and biking.

If you are interested in learning more about New York City's Vision Zero plan, a Town Hall meeting is being hosted on April 1st, from 7-9 at Brooklyn Borough Hall. For more information, please call (212) 341-2644 or email Events@council.nyc.gov.

  • User Side Images Image 295
    Photo courtesy of NYC Department of Transportation.
  • User Side Images Image 296
    Photo courtesy of NYC Department of Transportation.