Search form

Example 3: Road Injury Traffic Prevention Policy Development in the UK

Vision Zero” was developed in Sweden as a traffic safety policy in the 1990s. When the policy was introduced by Swedish Parliament in 1997, Sweden was already among countries with the lowest rates of traffic injuries and fatalities. Road trauma, a leading cause of injury for children, is an issue worldwide.  In 2002, the WHO estimated 180,500 children were killed as a result of road crashes. Vision Zero supports the UN Millennium Development Goal 4 to reduce by two thirds the child mortality rate (UN).  In the European Union (EU) an estimated 1,300,000 accidents a year cause 1,700,000 road injuries (Vision 3).  In Europe and North America, children who are at greatest risk of road injury are passengers in private motor cars and pedestrians. The indirect and direct cost of traffic injuries is 2 per cent of the EU Gross national Product (GNP) (Vision 3).

A policy needed to be developed or modified in Sweden because there was a steady decrease in road injuries over the past 30 years in the EU, but this decrease reached a plateau and there has been no further decline since the mid-1990s. Ines Usmann, Sweden’s Minister of Transport, wanted to introduce a policy and said, “Sweden had to do something to sort out this problem.  It is not acceptable that the decline should stop” (Vision 19). The attempt to change road safety came just after the sinking of the MV Estonia ferry which lost 852 lives (Vision 19). This created an environment where radical actions in safety were more acceptable in Swedish society and politics. Vision Zero is currently in effect in Sweden, but might be taken to other countries including the United Kingdom. The UK “has an excellent record in reducing road traffic accident fatalities” but there are “still serious concerns” the UK could take further steps to reduce fatalities and injuries (Vision 3).

The resulting policy philosophy was Vision Zero. According to Vision Zero, “It can never be ethically acceptable that people are killed or seriously injured when moving within the road transport system” (Tingvall).  Vision Zero “provides a vision of a safe road transport system which can be used to guide the selection of strategies and then the settings of goals and targets” (Tingvall).  The policy makes safety the most important element of the road transport system and places responsibility on both the road users and designers. It understands that road users may make errors, but they can be minimized by system change.  If road users break rules regarding safe road transport because of a “lack of knowledge, acceptance or ability, or if injuries occur, the system designers are required to take necessary further steps to counteract people being killed or seriously injured” (Tingvall). Minor crashes will inevitably occur, so Vision Zero focuses efforts on reducing serious crashes that result in disability fatalities.

The ideal end product of policy change in the UK would be a safe transport system with a reduction in the number of traffic accidents. Guidelines in the UK Vision Zero strategy would influence infrastructure, speed limits, the road users’ safe use of the system, and the use of seatbelt and alcohol transmission interlock systems, and intelligent speed limiters that change based on road conditions. Alcohol interlock systems reduce driving while under the influence of alcohol by requiring breath analysis to start an ignition. Seatbelt interlock systems determine where to release an airbag based on occupants’ presence and require seatbelts for the car to move into a drive position.  It is a long-term strategy where “the system and its use are gradually integrated” and responsibility is shared between user and designer (Tingvall). The European Commission (EC) identified the main issues in road safety (and in the UK) to be improper speed, failure to wear a seatbelt, high risk accident sites (“black spots”), non-compliance in professional transport driver rest times, poor visibility of other users, the consumption of alcohol and drugs , and fatigue (Vision 3). Experience in Sweden cannot yet show the full implications of the Vision Zero policy change because it is a long-term visionary strategy (Vision 15).  The policy would affect all users and pedestrians who use UK’s road system.  The policy developed would be a public law and ordinance that changes the approach to road safety and shifts responsibility off of only road users. It would also be a regulatory policy that requires instant investigation and action on the part of road workers after accidents and would be part of the legislative or parliamentary process.

Establishing the Vision Zero policy in the UK would first require an investigation into the need for the policy.  This step has already been completed by Sweden’s Vision Zero, the European Commission, and selected EU Member States (Vision 15). To determine the effectiveness and acceptability of a UK Vision Zero policy interviews were done with Swedish, UK, and European stakeholders, UK Focus Groups formed, and questionnaires given to UK stakeholders. UK stakeholders included “representatives from national government, academic institutions, and the motor industry” and the results determined current perceptions, “key issues, pressures, and evidence which” may or may not lead to the adoption of the policy (Vision 16). Answers from the UK focus group provided a positive response to the Vision Zero policy and “most participants felt ‘zero’ was the only acceptable number for road deaths” (Vision 32).

To influence policy development “the role of insurance companies should not be underestimated, as well as building partnerships with the automotive industry” (Tingvall).  The issue will be accepted more by some stakeholders if it is seen as something that will help the market and reduce costs associated with accidents.  A cost-benefit and cost-effectiveness study showed significant financial benefits could come from the implementation of the policy. According to the study, “Theoretically, Vision Zero brings with it a 10-year stream of benefits that can be valued at 11 billion” (Vision 84).  Potential resources needed included researchers to determine the potential impact of the Vision Zero policy, staff and volunteers to lead focus group discussions and interviews with stakeholders, outcomes of Vision Zero in other areas to show effectiveness, and partnerships between UK, Sweden and European stakeholders.

Potential allies of policy development efforts could include the citizens who are dissatisfied with an acceptance of any deaths or injuries, transport industries that frequent the road system, the automotive industry, government and non-governmental organizations in both UK and Sweden, and the World Health Organization who stated “Road traffic crashes are predictable and can be prevented” (WHO 158).  In Sweden there was little disagreement on a political level because of the ethical and value centered nature of the policy (Vision 20). Targets of policy change efforts include elected officials, local government, traffic safety officials, and citizens. Agents of policy change efforts include citizens, public health officials, local government, insurance companies, businesses, NGOs, the Swedish National Road Administration, the car industry, European Commission, and European Transport Safety Council.

To create a strategies and action plan a method called “backcasting” was used where a future with UK Vision Zero was imagined and then worked backwards to determine a path to reach the vision (Vision 86). The policy pathways first “consists of structured consultation and consensus building” and “is based on the WHO view of involving” many dimensions influence policy (Vision 89). Dimensions include police, industry, users/citizens, government and legislative bodies, NGOs and special interest groups, professionals, and the media (WHO 14). The action plan for UK Vision Zero has three phases for implementation. The first phase leads to the “suggested parliamentary decisions or Act” and includes: “citizen juries to establish an unbiased and full citizen perspective,” “a transport select committee investigation,” “discussions in every local authority,” and involvement of NGOs, professional bodies, engineers, architects, the car industry, public health specialists, and police (Vision 91). A successful first phase would be a change in traffic policy. The second phase, reflecting policy change, includes a media strategy, legal incorporation of the policy in vehicle design, speed control changes, accident investigations,  law reform, increase in public transport, promotion of sustainable transport, changes in urban design and road design, and breath tests (Vision 91-93).  The final phase, after the policy change is in effect is evaluation and modification of the effort and an audit of the policies in effect.  The implementation of the Vision Zero policy is “relevant to any country that aims to create a sustainable road transport system” and is a proven and effective “tool for all” (WHO 20).

Adapted from:

Penden, M., Scurfield, R.., Sleet, D., Mohan, D., Hyder, A., et al.  World Report on Road Traffic Injury Prevention. Geneva: World Health Organization, 2004.

Whitelegg, J., Haq, G. Vision Zero: Adopting a Target of Zero for Road Traffic Fatalities and Injuries. Stockholm Environment Institute. Stockholm, 2006. 29 Nov. 2007

Works Cited:

Tingvall, C. and Haworth, N. (1999) Vision Zero - An ethical approach to safety and mobility, paper presented to the 6th International Conference Road Safety & Traffic Enforcement: Beyond 2000, Melbourne, Australia, 6-7 September 1999, accessed in November 2007.

"UN Millennium Development Goals." United Nations. 2005. UN Web Services Section. 8 Nov. 2007