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Chapter 8 - Top-Down Leadership

The team was impressed with the coordination between research goals and the highest levels of government in Europe. The best example of this is Sweden's Vision Zero. The Swedish Parliament passed an act specifying that the country's official long-term traffic safety goal is zero fatalities. This provides extremely clear direction to researchers and agencies responsible for highway design and operation. Unlike the road safety guiding philosophy in the United States that tolerates a certain number of fatalities and injuries and mandates only a desired percentage decrease in death and destruction, Sweden has stated that no one should die on a Swedish road. SWOV in the Netherlands expressed similar goals. In France, road safety was a campaign issue in the national elections, and President Jacques Chirac has put major emphasis on road safety as a national priority. In general, Europe appears to be ahead of the United States in directing drastic improvements in roadway safety.

Vision Zero

In October 1997, the Swedish Parliament passed a road traffic safety bill mandating a long-term goal that no one should be killed or seriously injured on a Swedish roadway. The design and operation of the Swedish road system, therefore, must be adapted to meet this new requirement. This is a drastic departure from the traditional cost-benefit analysis that controls road safety in the United States. It is based on the ethical principle that everything possible must be done to preserve human life so that safety dominates cost. For example, Vision Zero means that the best technical solution to improve safety should be implemented rather than the least expensive solution or even the most cost-effective solution.

In the United States, primary responsibility for safe driving rests with the driver. The Federal government provides standards and regulation for the design and construction of both vehicles and roadways, but it is up to the driver to avoid errors such as running off the road, entering an intersection when the signal is red, and crossing lanes into opposing traffic. The infrastructure is seldom fault tolerant, so a driver who makes a serious error is likely to suffer a serious consequence and also may inflict high costs on other nearby roadway users.

The Swedish National Road Administration is taking several steps to achieve Vision Zero. Speed limits have been reduced in built-up areas where pedestrians and bicyclists are in proximity, and principles of self-organizing roadways are used to encourage drivers to follow the lower speed limits. Roundabouts are used to calm traffic and minimize collision risk. Vehicle safety standards are promulgated with collision tests. Cable guardrails are being installed to replace conventional guardrails. Speed limits on national roads are under review because lower speeds are safer and safety dominates all other factors, including mobility. Seatbelt reminders are under consideration. Speed surveillance cameras are being installed. Companies are encouraged to include safety in their travel policies.

Vision Zero assumes that drivers will make errors and shifts responsibility to the roadway designers and operators, who are required to anticipate human error. For example, the center cable barrier in a 2+1 road protects the driver by absorbing the energy of a collision with the barrier without deflecting the vehicle back into traffic. It also protects other drivers by preventing incursions into oncoming traffic.

Vision Zero is an attractive concept that might have useful application in the United States. In August 2003, the Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITS America) embraced an American version of Vision Zero that also includes a concept of zero delay. One potential challenge for applying Vision Zero here is related to cost. Vision Zero eschews cost-benefit tradeoff analysis that might imply a need for unlimited funds or unlimited time to achieve the goal. This can be illustrated by an extreme hypothetical example. Suppose the entire U.S. Department of Transportation budget was allocated to implementing Vision Zero. No funds would be available to support air traffic control and inspection of aviation maintenance, so aviation fatalities would increase. Indeed, it is logically possible that the benefit of lives saved on the highway could be less than lives lost in the air, so this purist realization of Vision Zero could cause a net increase in total lives lost. Perhaps a U.S. version of Vision Zero could avoid this paradox by aiming for equality of fatalities and injuries across transportation modalities so driving would be as safe as flying. While not as conceptually attractive as no highway fatalities, this modified goal would still represent a huge improvement in traffic safety.

Vision Zero Contact Information

Swedish National Road Administration
Head Office
SE-781 87 Borlange Sweden

Sustainable Safety

The vision for sustainable safety originated in the Netherlands in the early 1990s. The vision states that the next generation will not have a road system that tolerates thousands of people killed and tens of thousands injured in the Netherlands each year. It is based on three design principles: functionality, homogeneity, and predictability.

Functional use means that roads should not be used for unintended purposes, e.g., urban streets should not support the higher speeds used on arterials. This implies a need to categorize roads so that appropriate design standards can be applied to each part of the road network.

Homogeneity means that design characteristics should remain constant along a roadway. Road design should foster appropriate driver behavior, which is related to the concept of self-organizing roads discussed earlier in this report.

Predictability refers to both the road and the behavior of road users. For example, the unexpected appearance of a bicyclist or pedestrian on a road would be a violation of predictability.

Implementation of sustainable safety will require substantial human factors research relating the driver to the roadway. Explicit marketing efforts will be needed to gain public acceptance of the concept.

Sustainable Safety Contact Information

IR. F.C.M Wegman
SWOV Institute for Road Safety Research
PO Box 1090
2260 BB Leidschendam
The Netherlands
Duindoorn 32

Executive Direction

In 2002, President Chirac of France decided to make road safety one of three major initiatives to be undertaken during his five-year term. The result was a spectacular decrease in traffic fatalities. Compared to 2002 when 5,731 people were killed, 2003 spared 1,511 lives on French roadways. The main reduction in fatalities involved rural areas (-21.6 percent), interstate roads (-27.0 percent), pedestrians (-27.7 percent), drivers (-23.8 percent), and people between 25 and 44 years old (-23.7 percent). These are outstanding results, especially when compared to the United States, where fatalities increased over the past five years.

Several factors contributed to the success in France. Safety measures such as enforcing strict fines for not wearing seatbelts or helmets, using cell phones while driving, and driving under the influence of alcohol were increased, with strong media coverage of these changes. Speeding violations increased by 19 percent, including 8 percent from installation of automated camera ticketing. Almost 4.5 million driver points were assessed, an increase of 43.8 percent. Revocation of driver licenses increased 54.2 percent.

It seems clear that making traffic safety a national priority is effective. It is problematic to assess how this might work in the United States.

Executive Direction Contact Information

Mathieu Goetzke
Ministére de l'Équipement des Transports du Logement du Tourisme et de la Mer
Tour Pascal B
92055 La Défense cedex
Phone: +33 (0) 1 40 81 63 36

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