What is Vision Zero and How Can It Prevent Traffic Injuries and Fatalities?

Canada is known for ranking among the top countries in the world by all sorts of measures, though it’s often edged out by Scandinavian countries with top-notch social, health, and transportation policies. The topic of today’s post is a great example of progressive Swedish thinking: the Vision Zero movement.

This road safety strategy is gaining traction around the world, and you may have heard it being discussed in your community here in Ontario. Here’s a closer look at Vision Zero and what communities can gain from embracing its principles.

What is Vision Zero?

  • Vision Zero is a Swedish initiative launched in 1997. Its premise is simply this: No loss of life is acceptable. Life and health can never be exchanged for other benefits within the society. Sweden has the world’s lowest rates of road deaths, having cut the fatality rate by more than 50% since implementation — despite there being more cars on the road and more miles travelled by those cars. “Zero” refers to the target goal of zero traffic deaths by 2020.
  • In the status quo, blame for road accidents is almost always placed on an individual user: the driver, pedestrian, or cyclist. In Vision Zero, safety is seen as a partnership between road users, infrastructure designers, vehicle makers, and law enforcement. It is everyone’s responsibility to keep our roads safe for all users. Rather than trying to change human behaviour to fit the system, Vision Zero changes the system to fit human behaviour.
  • Vision Zero also recognizes two key facts: 1)  human beings make errors, and 2) there is a critical limit beyond which survival and recovery from an injury are not possible. That is why lower speed limits (in places where protected and unprotected users share the road) and planning for human error are two critical pieces of the Vision Zero philosophy.
  • Vision Zero is NOT about taking cars off the road or making driving less convenient. Vision Zero says that “The road system needs to keep us moving. But it must also be designed to protect us at every turn.”

Where has in been adopted in Canada and in Ontario?

With Edmonton leading the pack by being the first major Canadian city to officially adopt Vision Zero in 2015, many other municipalities across the country are exploring the concept. From Vancouver to Winnipeg to Montreal politicians, community groups and safety advocates are urging government to commit to the principles of Vision Zero, saying one road fatality is too many.

At home here in Ontario, Toronto committed to a 5-year Vision Zero Road Safety Plan in January 2017, and Hamilton is currently running a survey to get residents’ feedback on Vision Zero. City councilor Catherine McKenney has called for Ottawa to join the movement as well.

What can I do to get involved?

  • Visit VisionZero.ca
  • Talk to your local elected officials and law enforcement about bringing Vision Zero to your community