Vision Zero: From Sweden to New York City, with Love

Sarah Goodyear, Atlantic Citylab: What were the main barriers that had to be overcome in initially adopting Sweden’s Vision Zero strategy?

Matts-Åke Belin, Swedish traffic safety strategist: I would say that the main problems that we had in the beginning were not really political, they were more on the expert side. The largest resistance we got to the idea about Vision Zero was from those political economists that have built their whole career on cost-benefit analysis. For them it is very difficult to buy into “zero.” Because in their economic models, you have costs and benefits, and although they might not say it explicitly, the idea is that there is an optimum number of fatalities. A price that you have to pay for transport.

The problem is the whole transport sector is quite influenced by the whole utilitarianist mindset. Now we’re bringing in the idea that it’s not acceptable to be killed or seriously injured when you’re transporting. It’s more a civil-rights thing that you bring into the policy.

The other group that had trouble with Vision Zero was our friends, our expert friends. Because most of the people in the safety community had invested in the idea that safety work is about changing human behavior. Vision Zero says instead that people make mistakes, they have a certain tolerance for external violence, let’s create a system for the humans instead of trying to adjust the humans to the system.

vision zero accident scene sweden

The Swedish Approach to Road Safety:
‘The Accident Is Not the Major Problem’

vision zero nyc logoInterested to know more about this? Click here to read Sarah Goodyear‘s Atlantic Citylab interview with Matts-Åke Belin of the Swedish Transport Administration’s Vision Zero program.

MAB: One of the major things with Vision Zero now is to put that more explicitly on the table. It’s like if we’re talking about the environment, and you know you have a certain threshold when it comes to poison, or whatever. You can tolerate up to a certain level. So it’s not just to stop the traffic. You can actually allow traffic. But if you have places in your system where you have unprotected road users and protected road users, according to Vision Zero you can’t allow a higher speed than 30 kilometers per hour [18.6 mph].

Because if you have, as we did in Sweden before, 50 kph [31 mph] as the default speed in an urban area — if you get hit by a car at 50 the risk for a fatal accident is more than 80 percent. But it is less than 10 percent when you have 30 kilometers per hour.

SG: It’s not always enough to say, the speed limit is now 30 kph. As you say, design plays a huge role, yes. But what about education and enforcement?

MAB: I will say that enforcement plays of course a role in Sweden, but not so much. We are going much more for engineering than enforcement. If you have a very dedicated police staff and they think it’s the most important thing, then you can be quite effective working with police. But I don’t think you will get a safe system. You will reduce risk, but you will not achieve a safe system

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* More on Vision Zero at

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Enrico Bonfatti, dopo aver vissuto e lavorato nella industriosa Lombardia, si è ritirato oggi in una ridente frazione montana delle prealpi venete. Ha avuto il privilegio di poter sperimentare la vita senza il possesso dell'automobile per tredici lunghi anni. Ultimamente lo ha perso a causa del mutato contesto nel quale si trova a vivere e delle politiche di smantellamento del trasporto pubblico in atto ormai da diversi anni nel nostro paese e non solo. Ha dato vita a questo blog nell'ormai lontano 2009, spinto dalla necessità di preservare, per quanto possibile, il quartiere dove viveva dal quotidiano assalto delle lamiere.

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