Jan. 22, 2010 The zero vision has had its day. Ten years after the Norwegian authorities launched its zero casualties objective for road safety, statistics have not improved.
So says Trond Åge Langeland, staff engineer at the Norwegian Public Roads Administration and a PhD graduate from the University of Stavanger. He based his thesis on interviews with 30 experts on road safety, and his conclusion is less than encouraging.
Since the mid-1990'ies, the number of people killed in road accidents has not decreased significantly. 560 people were killed in traffic accidents in 1970. Fifteen years on, the was less than 300. The National Transport Plan 2002-2011 was launched in 1999, and the zero vision with it. Since then, the number of fatalities has remained largely unchanged.
"The zero vision has drawn more attention to road safety, but it has not yielded any significant short-term gains so far," Langeland says.
There may be a number of reasons why the casualty and severely injured has stalled since the mid-1990ies. It could be attributed to a series of preventive measures implemented since the 1970ies, which -- in spite of the traffic boom -- have had a beneficial effect. Compulsory use of safety belts and more secure vehicles are among them.
"Still, it is a paradox that decrease in casualties is less than might be expected," Langeland says.
Until 1990, the casualty shrunk by roughly 100 during each decade. This should imply a number of approximately 150 road casualties today -- not 250, which is the actual , he explains.
The zero vision stemmed from a desire to further reduce the number of fatalities and severe injuries from road accidents. According to Langeland, it is to be regarded more as a vision than an actual target. It deemed the high number of road casualties unjustifiable. It also acknowledged a shared responsibility between traffic planners and road users. Vehicles, road users and infrastructure are interrelated. This interrelatedness is best exemplified by speed limits being set on the basis of the human body's endurance at the moment of collision. According to traffic rules, the limit should not exceed 70 km/h on roads where there is a risk of frontal collisions taking place. For side collisions, the limit is 50 km/h. In areas where non-motorists and vehicles may conflict, the speed should not exceed 30 km/h.
"Breach of speed limits is a strongly contributing factor to many road accidents. Implementing preventive measures to ensure lower speed levels, such as speed caps in cars, will reduce the annual number of people killed in road accidents significantly," Langeland says.
This is why there is an increased effort to separate speed limits, he adds.
"Politicians could adopt unpopular initiatives such as speed caps, designed to reduce the number of traffic casualties and severely injured. We are restricted by international regulations in some areas, but draconian measures may sometimes give significant gains."
Restrictions vs freedom
Although Langeland believes the zero vision to be an unobtainable goal, he still thinks it has something going for it.
Even though the vision does not permeate traffic authorities and the police on a daily basis, it has raised awareness among the public and the safety sector. It may serve as a guiding light on the way to achieving lower casualty s than 250, Langeland believes.
"A future of 50 annual casualties is realistic. But it will require more forceful measures, which may pose a threat to people's individual freedom and driving experience. The government and politicians alike must address this dilemma."
Langeland refers to drunk driving now being socially unacceptable. The same should apply to not using a safety belt and driving above speed limits, which are the two main causes of road deaths today.
Future measures should concentrate on preventing head-on collisions, off-the-road accidents and accidents involving non-motorists. Physical obstacles are effective at preventing accidents, Langeland asserts. Median barriers and other markers set up to prevent head-on collisions is one such measure. Roadside terrain designed to reduce the impact of accidents is another. All efforts should be considered when new roads are being planned.
The traffic researcher offers a final word of advice: "The time loss from adhering to, and respecting, speed limits is miniscule. It really shouldn't matter to us if we are 30 seconds late for dinner."
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