Vision Zero is an ethics-based initiative that aims to reduce the number of road accident deaths to zero. It started in Sweden in 1997, where it enjoyed considerable success. The initiative went on to become a global force as several key cities all over the planet start to adopt its key principles.
The proponents, supporters, and advocates of this ethics-based approach believe that life and health “can never be exchanged for other benefits within the society”. This runs in direct contrast with the prevailing cost and benefits comparisons wherein human life is assigned a monetary value that is measured against all other monetized costs and risks.
Because it is an ethics-based approach, Vision Zero does not really specify goals and the actual means of achieving them. It just guides strategy selection processes in such a way that life and health of people are given absolute importance.
As mentioned, Vision Zero started in Sweden in 1997 when the nation’s parliament approved its adoption as the new approach to designing and maintaining the safety of the country’s roads. Claus Tingvall, one of the designers of the original Vision Zero policy, states that road systems must be based on the idea that the people who are going to use them are capable of making mistakes. Hence, the responsibility to keep the roads safe should not fall only on the users but also on the design of the system itself.
“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,” Tingvall says. This is echoed in one of the statements in the policy, which reads “In every situation a person might fail. The road system should not.”
The approach proved useful for Sweden, and they have continually been among the most effective at avoiding road deaths in the past years.
Because of the initiative’s success in Sweden, other countries and key cities all over the world followed suit. New York City is among the earliest to adopt the Vision Zero principles in its policy-making, having made the move in 2014.
Since then, the city has been getting quite positive results. The number of traffic mishaps and the deaths that results from them has been dropping year after year until 2018. This led to the city being awarded the 2018 Transport Achievement Award by the International Transport Forum at OECD.
However, things turned sour by 2019. By May 2019, police records show that 65 people have been killed in the city. This is up by 30% to the fifty people killed in the same period in 2018. These figures show that the Vision Zero intervention is becoming ineffective, at least for NYC.
The figures being looked at only cover road deaths. They do not include those who are injured or those that seek the help of competent lawyers from firms such as the Dore Law Group.
North Carolina’s Vision Zero
In late 2016, North Carolina also adopted its own version of Vision Zero. Given the fate that has befallen the initiative in NYC, the future for this is also uncertain. Almost three years into the program, and results from Charlotte and other key areas in the state have yet to come.