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Street safety in Sweden, an example of strong and effective policy?

Updated on May 26, 2015

Economic growth brings with itself cars traffic. Traffic leads more congestion, noise and pollution; and moreover, deaths and serious injuries. Every year over one million people die because of cars crashing. That's what the World Health Organisation is strongly reporting and active.

Road traffic deaths by type of road user, by WHO region
Road traffic deaths by type of road user, by WHO region | Source

Claess Tingvall, director of traffic safety at the Swedish Road Administration

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Sweden reached last year the the record low of 264. Behind this there's a policy lasting since 1997, when the initiative Vision Zero has started. Its core principle is human nature is not made for velocity, it is passible of error and the roads have to be designed according to these lacks.

Tingvall: "People and media have a tendency in tolerating cars death more than plane deaths or rail mortal accidents. But one cannot say a human life to be lost in road accidents is something morally acceptable. Main ingredients of Vision Zero are 2+1 roads, drink and drive prevention and pedestrian facilities."

A typical 2+1 road

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2+1 roads are reported to have saved over 140 lives in the first decade of Vision Zero; they are roads where one way (preferably the one rising) has a double lane. The two ways, going in two different directions, are usually separated by a physical barrier. That's to make easier for one car passing another. What about the finance. The government since 1997 has been building 1500 km of 2+1 roads; partly building totally new roads and partly enlarging still existing ones.

Total cost is estimated to be around 3,35 millions of euros since new interventions regarded urban, suburban and rural (in fact rural roads building costs almost half than urban). Alcohol prevention has played an important role; now less than 0.25% of drivers tested are over the alcohol limit because of legal restriction. There is not yet a law obliging every car to have a breathalyzer installed, so that a progress is still possible. The country has lowered speed limits in urban, crowded areas and built barriers to protect bikers from incoming traffic. Government has also created 12,600 safer pedestrian crossings. That’s estimated to have halved pedestrian deaths over the past five years.

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IRTAD the Joint Transport Research Centre of the OECD and the International Transport Forum, is monitoring data about the progress of road safety in the developed countries. When looking to the latest available analysis (2012 compared with 2011), Sweden doesn't seem to be on track. One could assume this would be due to the high level that has been achieved in 2011 since the start of the policy in 1997. However, when comparing 2012 with 2000, Sweden is still in the same 'group' of performers. OK, but not special...

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    • Ewent profile image

      Eleanore Ferranti Whitaker 2 years ago from Old Bridge, New Jersey

      Giovanni, interesting summation post. I never considered the relationship between higher GDP and those issues as a cause. Lots to think about. Thank you.

    • Giovanni Fabbrini profile image
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      Giovanni Fabbrini 2 years ago from Florence

      I don't really know what's at the base of this gap (perhaps reasons are not so simpe to explain). Americans seem to be hard workers, hard consumers, many of them are credit card owners, bad savers and they trust big financial companies, collective funds, in investing for the future. This generates a higher GDP I don't know about consequences on people's life.

    • Ewent profile image

      Eleanore Ferranti Whitaker 2 years ago from Old Bridge, New Jersey

      Europe cannot be expected to have an economy competitive to the US. It's basic economic system is built on stability. The US system is hit or miss as is exhibited by numerous stock market crashes since 1929.

      Unfortunately, the tide in the US has turned from a country united to one sharply divided by demographics and ideology. Somehow, Europe manages a level of tolerance from one country to the next where ideology is concerned.

    • Giovanni Fabbrini profile image
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      Giovanni Fabbrini 2 years ago from Florence

      In fact street safety is one of the field in which western Europe overcome the United States, as crime rate for example (http://bit.ly/1kDKuGY). About economy there is still a gap.

    • Ewent profile image

      Eleanore Ferranti Whitaker 2 years ago from Old Bridge, New Jersey

      My son lived in Gothenburg, Sweden for 15 years. As an American, he was impressed by the transit system in Sweden. Swedes have such a finely honed tram system that cars in Gothenburg are not needed, except for travel north of this port city. Coming from NJ, my son saw how poorly the US northeast transit system has been designed.

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