In the mid-1990s, Sweden embarked on an ambitious program to reduce road accident casualties. Given the atopic name Vision Zero, the program has sought to concentrate resources on road infrastructure to reduce the possibility of accidents and incorporate safety measures that will reduce personal injury. Was Vision Zero successful? What technological solution can be used today to address ambitious problems?
In 1995, the Swedish authorities began testing an ambitious program to reduce road accident casualties. The program was coined by the name – Vision Zero. According to the plan, the resources allocated to the road infrastructure were directed first to their safety, for example, separating lanes on two-way roads to prevent the possibility of frontal accidents. Another aspect that characterized the Swedish plan was the speed limit and its determination according to the road infrastructure. At the end of 1997, the Vision Zero program passed in the Swedish parliament, and since then, all the road infrastructure in the country has been planned and maintained according to it.
The Swedish model is adopted all over the world
The trend marked by Vision Zero began as early as the 1980s. The number of people killed in road accidents then reached a negative peak in almost every country globally, and it was clear that something had to be done. New regulations have come into force, including the obligation to wear seat belts. Towards the end of the decade, car manufacturers began to incorporate airbags and ABS systems, which were later adopted as part of the standard of vehicles in various countries.
The change has proven itself, leading to a reduction in carnage levels on the roads. The number of casualties began to decline – the cars became safer, and the focus shifted to infrastructure, which is reflected in Vision Zero and similar programs.
Following the success, the Swedish model has also been adopted in other countries, including Canada, the UK, Greece, and the Netherlands, with slightly different emphases applied in each country. For example, in the Netherlands, the focus was on making roads more “forgiving.” To produce a road system that has more intuitive and precise driving. In this Dutch concept, there is an understanding that the most significant problem, and on the other hand, the least controlled, is the human element.
2013 – The decline in the number of casualties has stopped
Suppose one looks at Vision Zero steps as a natural evolution to automakers’ and regulators’ actions since the 1980s. In that case, one can even say that this was a dramatic success. In the Netherlands, 1,996 deaths were recorded in accidents in 1980, and in 2013 there were 476 deaths. In Germany, the number dropped from 15,050 deaths in 1980 to 3,339 deaths in 2013; And in Sweden, from 848 deaths in 1980 to 260 deaths in 2013.
A fact that amplifies these data is that the number of cars on the road only increased at that time. This dramatic picture is accurate for most Western European countries and countries like Australia, Canada, the United States, and South Korea (in the latter two, the decline has been more moderate but impressive enough).
Target 2020. What happened then?
When the Swedish plan was launched in 1997, the target year for achieving zero fatalities in road accidents was 2020. Even if this sounds absurd to you when looking at the graph, the number of deaths has steadily decreased, until 2012 it seems pretty reasonable, but then 2013 came, and the decline stopped. After that, the trend was reversed.
In those years, what happened in Sweden happened more or less in most other countries. Why has the drop in road accident deaths been halted? Well, in three words – the human element.
Cellular distractions change the picture
As we mentioned, cars and infrastructure can be made safer, but these measures have little effect on human behavior. Driver behavior has always had a decisive impact on road accidents. Still, a new and problematic dimension was added at the beginning of the second decade of the twenty-first century.
Smartphones and the internet that improve our lives in so many areas are a severe problem on the road because we can’t resist the temptation and disconnect from them.
We are used to being available all the time, but this availability leads to impaired concentration and control of the road. The statistics do not lie – since the smartphone became an essential product, there has been a steep rise in road accidents worldwide. At the same time, lawmakers responded quickly; actions such as texting while driving have become illegal by law in most countries. The human urge to be available is often stronger than law.
SaverOne provides a solution to the human element
The good news is that it may be too early to eulogize Vision Zero. As strange as it may sound, it is possible that Sweden’s path to reach the ambitious destination it presented, in general, passes through Petah Tikva – the headquarters of an Israeli start-up company called SaverOne.
SaverOne has developed technology that successfully deals with the human factor for the first time. The main problems affecting the human element in the last decade are cellular distractions. With this distraction, drivers lose concentration and contact with what is happening on the road (and their reaction time also lengthens). SaverOne’s technology addresses the problem elegantly – it recognizes the driver’s phone, “takes over” it, and prevents it from using the cell phone illegally.
Thus, it addresses the root of the problem and effectively stops the cellular distractions altogether. Will we see this technology adopted as the next step in Vision Zero? It is another promoter to know, but it will probably be worthwhile to follow its implementation.