We have a traffic fatality problem in the United States and there is something that can be done about it. As the new year begins we are asking everyone to imagine a different future for roadway safety. We are asking you to envision a future where 40,000 people each year are not killed in car crashes in the United States, but one where there are no fatalities or serious injuries on our roadways. We are asking you to embrace and support Vision Zero.
Vision Zero is a fundamental shift in how road safety is addressed. It is a strategy that aims to achieve zero traffic fatalities and serious injuries while increasing safe, healthy, and equitable mobility for all. Vision Zero addresses safety as a shared responsibility by system designers and roadway users. Any loss of life due to traffic crashes is considered unacceptable and preventable. Vision Zero road systems and policies recognize that people will sometimes make mistakes, but that those mistakes need not result in severe injuries or fatalities.
It’s doubtful that anyone thinks that 40,000 people dying on our roads each year is acceptable. Would you accept even a fraction of that number if it was true for air travel or train travel? Of course not…
But with cars, most people think of these deaths as accidents, tragic but inevitable occurrences. Traffic violence has become normalized– just the cost of doing business –not preventable. This mindset perpetuates the problem. The truth is that we can create safer roads if we choose to treat traffic safety as the public health issue that it is and make it a priority.
Achieving Vision Zero will take a change in thought and roadway design. Our roads are not inherently dangerous. Over time we have allowed them to become that way, designing too often for vehicle throughput and speed, and not often enough for the safety of all road users. Vision Zero is a long-term goal coupled with a strategy to significantly improve road safety with the implementation of a Safe System approach: Safe Streets, Safe Speeds, Safe Users, Safe Vehicles, and data driven decisions.
In a 2019 CDC study, the United States had the distinction of having the highest vehicle fatality rate among the 29 high-income countries in the study. In fact, at 11.1 fatalities per 100,000 population, it was 2.3 times higher than the average rate of the other countries. Sweden, where Vision Zero was first adopted, has been implementing the Vision Zero safe system strategy for roadway safety since 1999 and has seen its fatality rate drop from 6.7 road fatalities per 100,000 to 1.8 in 2020. Closer to home, the City of Hoboken adopted Vision Zero and has been applying safe system principles such as reducing speed limits and redesigning crosswalks for improved visibility and pedestrian safety. The result so far, not a single road fatality in seven years.
Whether it’s a driver, pedestrian, or bicyclist on the road, safe mobility needs to be the priority. We all need to encourage the adoption of Vision Zero and its strategies so that we can have, and not just imagine, a kinder and safer roadway system in our future.
Learn more about Vision Zero: