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In 2006 the Highways Agency - worried about the killing of five road workers by motorists in 2005 - created the Aiming for Zero campaign: “One workforce, zero harm’. The campaign has spawned a variety of other campaigns from private contractors including posters personalising the workforce at roadworks.
Working on the ‘Strategic Road Network’ must be hellish and the zero deaths policy is a laudable one. It would be good if the UK’s Department for Transport - which operates the Highways Agency - created a similar campaign for pedestrians and cyclists using Britain’s roads.
The Swedish equivalent to the DfT has had a ‘Vision Zero’ campaign since 1997 but for all road users, not just road workers. Sweden wants no roads deaths whatsover by 2020. The UK’s DfT is very aware of the Vision Zero campaign but has done nothing to emulate it.
The principle is that “Life and health can never be exchanged for other benefits within society” which is rather different to the usual UK approach where a monetary value is placed on life and health which is then used with a benefit-cost ratio evaluation before investing money in the road network to decrease risk.
In a background paper to the Swedish parliament written by the then government, the following sentence is a stand-out:
“…the speed limits within the road transport system should be determined by the technical standard of vehicles and roads so as not to exceed the level of violence that the human body can tolerate. The safer the roads and vehicles, the higher the speed that can be accepted.”
Vision Zero has also been adopted in Victoria, Australia.
As the main design factor in Vision Zero is the biomechanical tolerance of the human in the case that a potentially harmful event occurs, the main investments into the infrastructure should aim to control speed where there is a potential for conflict with other vehicles and to provide a better interface between the passive safety of the car and the infrastructure when a car leaves the intended direction. More specifically, investments should mainly be directed to interventions creating speeds below the threshold or grade-separated intersections.
Other investments should be directed towards more forgiving roadsides and large separation where speeds exceed, say, 60-70 km/h. For pedestrian safety, vehicle speeds must be restricted to 30 km/h where there are vehicle-pedestrian conflicts, or alternatively cars and pedestrians should be physically separated.
To increase the inherent safety of the road transport system based on Vision Zero is not in conflict with general investment in the road system. A more system-oriented approach must be developed in co-ordination with the automotive industry. In order to improve the interface between vehicles and the infrastructure, the interface must be defined and developed. The vehicle must be able to guarantee seat belt use, a sober driver and limitation of speed. The infrastructure must be developed to cope with a variety of vehicle types.