Vision Zero is a strategy to eliminate all traffic fatalities and severe injuries, while increasing safe, healthy, equitable mobility for all. First implemented in Sweden in the 1990s, Vision Zero has proved successful across Europe — and now it’s gaining momentum in major American cities.
Each year, more than 30,000 people — the population of a small city — are needlessly killed on American streets and thousands more are injured. We call this suffering traffic “accidents” — but, in reality, we have the power to prevent traffic collisions.
For too long, we’ve considered traffic deaths and severe injuries to be inevitable side effects of modern life. We face a crisis on our streets — with traffic violence taking too many lives — but there has traditionally been a lack of urgency from the public and our policymakers to reverse this fatal trend. Even those attempting to address the problem — the traffic engineer, police officer, policymaker, advocate or public health specialist — are working upstream, often isolated in silos or trying to move forward without reliable data, resources, or political support.
The significant loss of life exacts a tragic toll, extending beyond personal loss to deep community impacts, including: personal economic costs and emotional trauma to those suffering; and significant taxpayer spending on emergency response and long-term healthcare costs. And because so many fear for their safety on our streets, there is no true freedom of mobility — no right to choose to walk or bike — and, as a result, we compromise our public health with increasing rates of sedentary diseases and higher carbon emissions.
A New Vision for Safety
Vision Zero sets a timeline and a commitment and brings stakeholders together to ensure a basic right of safety for all people as they move about their communities.
Vision Zero is a significant departure from the status quo in two major ways:
1. Vision Zero acknowledges that traffic deaths and severe injuries are preventable and sets the goal of eliminating both in a set time frame with clear, measurable strategies. This is a major shift for most American communities, by establishing clear accountability to ensure safe mobility. History has shown, with campaigns to reduce drunk driving and initiatives to increase recycling, that changing cultural attitudes and ensuring political accountability make a dramatic difference — and increase success. It’s time to take this level of intention and focus to the critical issue of traffic deaths.
2. Vision Zero is a multidisciplinary approach, bringing together diverse and necessary stakeholders to address this complex problem. In the past, meaningful, cross-disciplinary collaboration among local traffic planners and engineers, police officers, policymakers, and public health professionals has not been the norm. Vision Zero acknowledges that there are many factors that contribute to safe mobility — including roadway design, speeds, enforcement, behaviors, technology, and policies — and sets clear goals to achieve the shared goal of zero fatalities and severe injuries.
Taking the Lead for Safer Streets
The impact of traffic deaths and injuries is felt most acutely at the local level. In too many cities, our transportation systems are out of synch with our priorities for improved health, sustainability, equity and economic well-being. Increasingly, leaders at the community and local level are mobilizing for Vision Zero, building the momentum from the ground up for a national campaign that transforms our streets into safe spaces for all.
We can save lives, prevent severe injuries, increase physical activity, while also benefitting the environment, the local economy, and advancing equity. And we can do it with proven strategies such as:
- lowering speed limits
- redesigning streets
- implementing meaningful behavior change campaigns
- enhancing data-driven traffic enforcement
By taking action at the local (and state) levels to prioritize safety in our policies and practices, we can create a new reality in which everyone — those of us walking and driving, and those of us riding a bus or a bike — feel safe and comfortable moving about our communities.