The underlying principle of Vision Zero is that ‘it can never be ethically acceptable that people are killed or seriously injured when moving within the road transport system’. To put it even more simply: no loss of life on the roads is acceptable.
How is Vision Zero different?
Historically, a cost-benefit approach has been taken to road safety. This means a monetary value is placed on life and road safety schemes introduced in areas where they would have the biggest impact.
Vision Zero is different because of its core principle that ‘Life and health can never be exchanged for other benefits within society’. It moves away from a cost-benefit approach and is instead an ethical principle. Traffic ‘crashes’ are not ‘accidents’ because deaths are preventable and unacceptable.
The word ‘Vision’ is key here. Vision Zero sets out the vision which guides the setting of strategies for each locality. Goals and targets are then set to work towards the vision, making it tangible. Many of these will be well-tested interventions but the aim is an overall, joined-up approach.
A change in responsibility
Responsibility for safety in current road transport systems sits with the road user. Most countries have sets of general rules, such as the Highway Code which set expectations about the way a road user should behave. In the event of an accident, it is assumed at least one party has broken the rules and is at fault.
Vision Zero changes this, explicitly stating that responsibility also sits with the system designer. Indeed, the ultimate responsibility is theirs. This means safety is the overriding priority of transport planners and road system designers – everything else stems from that priority. And when accidents occur, even if they are a result of road transport system users not following the rules, the onus is on planners to make changes to the system so there is no repeat – because similar events are not acceptable.
Vision Zero across the world
Although the underlying principle is the same, the way Vision Zero is implemented across the world varies. Many cities, regions and states in the United States have adopted the principles, with Chicago and New York being the first adopters.
Although the UK has not yet adopted Vision Zero, Transport for London has. The Mayor’s Transport Strategy sets out the goal that, by 2041, all deaths and serious injuries will be eliminated from London’s transport network.
As for Sweden, after adopting the approach in 1997, road deaths halved over the period 2000-2009.