The Government Policy Statement 2018/19 for Land Transport has identified road safety as a key strategic priority, to reflect an increased ambition for delivering a land transport system free of death and serious injury. There is support to develop a new road safety strategy and action plan over the next 12-18 months and the Government is currently considering whether the ‘Vision Zero’ framework should be applied in New Zealand.
Vision Zero is the Swedish approach to road safety thinking, which was first introduced in 1995 and ratified by their parliament in 1997. It is based on the ethical philosophy that no one should be killed or seriously injured for life in road traffic. Vision Zero takes into account the Safe System approach which focuses on delivering safe roads and roadsides, safe speeds, safe vehicles and safe road users. The idea is that if one part of the system fails, other parts will compensate to protect people in the system or reduce the severity of any impacts. Additionally, the responsibility for safety is shared between those who design and use the road transport system.
Vision Zero adopts the Safe System principles by emphasising that the road transport system is an entity in which different components such as roads, vehicles and users must interact in order to ensure safety. It acknowledges that humans are not perfect and even the best drivers occasionally make mistakes, however, mistakes on the road should not be punishable by death. New ways of thinking and innovative solutions have been derived based on the concept of Vision Zero. Primarily, this means preventing serious injuries from occurring as opposed to focusing on preventing crashes from ever happening.
So, should New Zealand adopt a Vision Zero approach? Since the introduction of Vision Zero in Sweden, road deaths have continued to decrease to one of the world’s lowest traffic-related fatality rates, despite an increase in traffic volumes. Sweden’s current road death rate is 2.6 deaths per 100,000 population, compared to New Zealand’s road death rate of 7.9 deaths per 100,000 population. If New Zealand had the same current death rate as Sweden, fewer than 125 people would die on our roads annually. The comparatively low death rate in Sweden can be partially attributed to the change in road environments, with central median barriers, roundabouts and speed calming in cities becoming commonplace. New Zealand can be considered to be in a similar position to where Sweden was in 1995. Undivided roads are common and head-on collisions are a leading cause of fatal and serious crashes on the State Highway network. High speeds have also been a very unforgiving factor in crashes and there is much discussion around speed limit reviews in terms of setting an appropriate speed for the road environment.
The potential trade-off for increased safety benefits is a decrease in efficiency or increased travel time. It is acknowledged that Vision Zero takes a safety before efficiency approach, however multiple organisations in New Zealand including Brake (a road safety charity), Cycling Action Network, Living Streets, NZ School Speeds and Walk Auckland have welcomed Vision Zero and other ideas associated with reducing the speed limit in urban areas.
Before Vision Zero can be entirely implemented in New Zealand, significant work is required to understand and develop targets, outcomes and performance measures for the land transport system. Consideration will also need to be given to the broader harms to health from transport related air and noise pollution in the environment, the potential for public health gains from increased uptake of active modes and personal safety while travelling on public transport and potentially driverless modes of travel. Other factors that need to be considered include driver age, experience, vehicle classes and designing for vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and cyclists. If implemented, the new strategy must be based on strong evidence and include monitoring and evaluation of interventions to assess effectiveness.
Vision Zero is not only a goal of zero traffic deaths and serious injuries, nor is it a one-size-fits all approach. It is an ethical philosophy underlined by the Safe System framework which needs to be applied holistically to the land transport system. It is a driving force for change. Ultimately, customers’ demands to be able to use the road transport system without putting their life and health at risk is a chief motivation for achieving Vision Zero. Good consumer information on transport safety systems can help increase market pressure, which in turn accelerates safe system developments. Given the success Sweden has had in reducing their fatal and serious injury crashes since introducing Vision Zero, New Zealand can't afford not to do the same.
Blog written by Eranga Dasanayaka, Transportation Engineer, Abley
 ACENZ Submission to the New Zealand Government in relation to the Government Policy Statement on Land Transport 2018/19 – 2027/28