Goal: No fatalities
Research suggests traffic-planning approaches would save lives

Highway into city

Research from the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the World Bank concludes that if all countries adopted a Safe System or Vision Zero approach to safety and traffic infrastructure, nearly a million lives could be saved around the world each year. WRI analyzed data from 53 countries and found that using Safe System tactics achieved both the lowest rates of traffic deaths and the largest reduction in fatalities in a 20-year period.

The report, “Safe and Sustainable: A Vision and Guidance for Zero Road Deaths,” emphasizes the importance of committing to no fatalities, upholding the Safe System principles of shared responsibility and reducing human error; as well as instituting structural fixes like better sidewalks, bike lanes, high-quality public transportation, safer vehicles and faster emergency response, according to WRI. The study says that it’s important for planners to take those factors into account when designing roadways.

Bikes in Bike laneTraffic fatalities claim more than 1.2 million lives annually. WRI found that to eliminate road deaths, policymakers must adhere to Safe System tenets: humans make errors and are vulnerable to injury; responsibility for the consequences should be shared, no death or serious injury is acceptable; and the best plan is a proactive, systemic one.

Sweden and the Netherlands began a Safe System program more than 20 years ago and have lowered their traffic fatalities to between three and four deaths per 100,000 residents annually, a decrease of more than 50 percent. The global average is 16.4 fatalities per 100,000 residents and 24.1 per 100,000 in low-income nations. More than 40,000 die on U.S. roadways every year.

Multi-pronged plan

Approximately 30 cities in the United States are using Vision Zero, which is similar to Safe System. Vision Zero takes the view that traffic deaths and severe injuries are preventable by utilizing proven strategies such as lowering speed limits, redesigning streets, implementing meaningful behavior-change campaigns and enhancing data-driven traffic enforcement. It also demonstrates that planning fosters cross-disciplinary collaboration among local traffic planners and engineers, police officers, policymakers and public-health professionals.

“We can dramatically reduce and eventually eliminate road-crash fatalities if we follow a Safe System approach,” said Soames Job, who heads the World Bank’s Global Road Safety Facilities and is one of the report’s co-authors. “Vision Zero is becoming a popular policy to embrace, but what it really means is committing to zero deaths and building in safeguards. By designing transportation systems for inevitable human error and placing a greater responsibility on officials, road designers and decision makers, we can profoundly reduce road-crash fatalities.”

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