09 Aug 2017
Twenty years on Sweden’s Vision Zero continues to impress


By Alex Ward

Sweden’s ‘vision zero’ is one of the most celebrated road safety strategies in the world. This was evident at the recent Vision Zero Conference held in Stockholm in June. The two-day event hosted by the Swedish Transport Administration and the Swedish Transport Agency brought together world-leading road safety experts, ministers, and decision-makers from across the globe to discuss road safety at a strategic level.

Anna Johansson, the Minister for Infrastructure, opened the conference. In her speech, she highlighted that Swedish road safety success should be shared around the globe. “Road safety efforts must be intensified worldwide. Sweden has come a long way in its road safety efforts and can contribute knowledge and experience from its vision zero work”.

Twenty years on vision zero or the safe systems approach is being adopted by governments and city/town councils across the globe. In 2011 the European Commission set the goal: “by 2050, to move close to zero fatalities in road transport. In line with this goal, the EU aims at halving road casualties by 2020. And to make sure that the EU is a world leader in safety and security of transport in all modes of transport.” This is great news, but for it to be achieved demand and drive to achieve those zero deaths is needed.

To explain how to practically implement vision zero Iain Cameron, Trustee of the Towards Zero Foundation and Chair of OECD/ITF Safe System Implementation Group gave a presentation. Iain focused on the need for shared responsibility among those who design, build, manage & use roads, design vehicles and provide post-crash care to prevent crashes resulting in serious injury or death. (If you are new to vision zero then I highly recommend reading the OECD/ITF report ‘Towards Zero’ which can be found here)

To highlight its twenty-year anniversary, Anders Lie, Senior Advisor to the Swedish Transport Administration explained how in October 1997, vision zero was passed by a large majority in the Swedish Parliament. It established the principle that: “It can never be ethically acceptable that people are killed or seriously injured when moving within the transport system.” This vision adopts a holistic approach in which system designers play an important role and tolerance to human failures is accepted.

One of the founding fathers of vision zero Claes Tingvall, (also a Towards Zero Foundation Trustee) also gave a presentation on the role of innovation and technology in road user safety. As vision zero is still yet to be achieved Claes was blunt in his belief that: “If the current methods do not lead to eradication – full compliance and zero-defects – we need new methods.” Part of this according to Claes is through more sustainable transport, better roads designed to be more forgiving and energy dissipating, with better pedestrian and cyclist protection.

To showcase how the Swedish road safety model has been adopted in the United States Leah Shahum from the Vision Zero Network gave a presentation. In America, the growing demand for safe mobility has been adopted by city mayors and councils. Today there are 27 cities which have adopted vision zero and 13 are in the pipeline. Using Sweden’s successful application of a holistic approach to road safety, communities in cities from New York to Portland have been petitioning their mayors and council representatives to adopt policies of zero tolerance to road deaths.

One of the highlights of the conference was a powerful presentation by Rohit Baluja of the Institute for Road Traffic Education (IRTE) in Delhi, India. Rohit explained that in many developing countries the adoption of the safe system approach will be very challenging. The South-East Asia region countries account for 30.4% of the worlds road deaths in just 11 countries. He emphasised that indigenous research within emerging nations is urgently needed in order to ensure that road injury prevention is locally owned and effectively implemented.

The conference showed that Sweden’s achievements and leadership in road safety are vital. On top of having strong political drive, they have a commitment to innovation and technology, and community engagement, all united by a powerful philosophy of not accepting any road deaths. For more information on the conference and to view presentations by speakers see here

Alex Ward attended the Vision Zero Conference representing the Towards Zero Foundation.

Please also note Due to a recent government reshuffle the new Minister for Infrastructure Tomas Eneroth succeeded Anna Johansson.