Is Vision Zero going to lower the road toll?

Julie Anne Genter
PHOTO- Noted

Recently your Associate Transport Minister, Ms Julie-Anne Genter, came to our attention through her deplorable leveraging of a terrible traffic crash, for political gain.

Five people had only just died in a crash at Waverley when she tweeted how sorry she was etc, and extolled her desire to ?Make our roads safer? before finishing her tweet with the hashtag?#visonzero (sic).

Subsequently, two other victims were to succumb to their injuries, making that crash the worst single fatal crash?in 13 years.

So forgetting for a moment that Ms Genter couldn?t even spell her hashtag correctly, and acknowledging that we would all like to make our roads safer, let?s look at what exactly this Vision Zero concept is and look at the possibility that its implementation might actually help to reduce our road toll.


This from the website, Quote:

The Vision Zero Initiative is a platform for the collected knowledge about and technology around traffic safety in Sweden. Founded by the Swedish Government and?Swedish Industry, it summarises the Swedish approach to traffic safety.?The Vision Zero Initiative is administrated by Business Sweden ? The Swedish Trade and Invest Council, with offices in more than 60 countries. Our headquarters is located in Stockholm, Sweden…

The Vision Zero was conceived in 1994. Like all good ideas, this one travelled fast. Just?three years later, Parliament passed a Road Traffic Safety Bill that wrote the Vision Zero into Swedish law. The bill sets an ultimate?target?of no deaths or serious injuries on Sweden?s roads?and is not satisfied with merely reducing accidents to an economically manageable level.End quote.

You may note from this description above that it seems rather business-centric. In fact, when looking at this website, it seems rather short on facts and recommendations and more like a portal to gain access to a list of traffic safety oriented companies that would be happy to sell you stuff.

Furthermore, Quote.

A core principle of the vision is that?‘Life and health can never be exchanged for other benefits within the society’?rather than the more conventional?comparison between costs and benefits, where a?monetary value?is placed on life and health,?and then that value is used to decide how much money to spend on a road network towards the benefit of decreasing how much risk.End quote.

It would seem that Ms Genter?s recent comments about the Northern Motorway extensions not having a good cost/benefit ratio may actually be anathema to the stated values of Vision Zero. Perhaps she actually needs to do a little research before getting her Twitter on.

As a traffic safety programme, Vision Zero has however evolved quite a way since 1994. They no longer seem to talk about ?targets of no deaths? but rather now talk more about ?no death being acceptable? and talk of ?road deaths? rather than ?road tolls? so we take it more seriously.

So how can you argue with that? Of course, no death is acceptable. We all know that our road toll is not the envy of the modern world. In fact, Sweden?s death rate is right down there with the lowest. But is it all because of Vision Zero? Graphs like this from their website would tend to show that to be the case. Look how the death rate line takes a sudden dip around about 1994, so that must be it, right?

First of all, as has been said before, never trust a graph that?s Y axis doesn?t start at zero. Further to that, I might add, never trust a graph that doesn?t even have any coordinates on the Y axis. This graph could show anything you want it to.

Here is a similar graph showing New Zealand?s road toll. Note from around 1950 on the New Zealand graph, that the death rate line is kind of similar.

Of note may be a steady rise over the years until around the early 70?s, then a bit of a dip for a few years. This, of course, was around when seatbelt use became compulsory and radial tyres started becoming mainstream.

A further dip from the late ?80s/early ?90s is also similar in both graphs. This, of course, coincided with systems such as ABS brakes, crumple zones, airbags and side impact bars being introduced.

The fact is, every new car is safer than the model that preceded it. Personally, I believe that safer cars and the much more frequent use of helicopters to rush patients to medical care are probably two of the biggest factors in reducing the number of deaths as a result of vehicle crashes.

But don?t get me wrong here. Vision Zero has a lot of great points about it, it is certainly getting road safety a lot of attention and that shouldn?t be a bad thing, as long as the remedies are sensible.

It really is that test that concerns me. Parts of Vision Zero seem to be very dogmatic. Speed limits are one of those aspects.

Vision Zero suggests the following: quote.?

[…] possible long term maximum travel speeds related to the infrastructure, given best practice in vehicle design and 100% restraint use”.?These speeds are based on human and automobile limits. For example, the human tolerance for a pedestrian hit by a well-designed car is approximately 30?km/h. If a higher speed in urban areas is desired, the option is to separate pedestrian crossings from the traffic. If not, pedestrian crossings, or zones (or vehicles), must be designed to generate speeds of a maximum of 30?km/h. Similarly, the inherent safety of well-designed cars can be anticipated to be a maximum of 70?km/h in frontal impacts, and 50?km/h in side impacts. Speeds over 100?km/h can be tolerated if the infrastructure is designed to prevent frontal and side impacts. End of quote.

So think about this for a minute. What the hardcore Vision Zeroists want, is a maximum speed limit of 30km/h?anywhere?that you might come across a pedestrian. That?s pretty much every single suburban road. A 50km/h limit on every road, (that?s not infected with pedestrians or cyclists), that has a side road or driveways off it, and a max speed limit of 70km/h?anywhere?that you could hit something head on!

Just how long is it going to take you to get to work once this comes in? How long will that trip to the bach, or the skifield, or your Mum?s place going to take travelling at these speeds?

And will these, frankly ridiculous speed limits, actually save any lives? I don?t know, probably a few is my guess. But I believe many more lives could be saved by better targeting of problems. Just as I firmly believe that Police writing people fines for 5km/h over the limit doesn?t make a single jot of difference, and may, in fact, hinder the road safety message judging by the recent steady rise in our road toll in the last few years.

Again from their website: Quote:

Despite some countries borrowing some ideas from the Vision Zero project,?it has been noted that the richer countries have been making outstanding progress in reducing traffic deaths?while the poorer countries tend to see an increase in traffic fatalities due to increased motorization. End of quote.

Say it isn?t so! Is it possible that first world countries have a safer vehicle fleet?

Perhaps our associate minister for transport should just be forcing us all to buy new cars. That should sort out the road toll lickety-split.

Instead, we get stupendously ignorant comments in her missives from the Beehive saying things like:?Quote.

For example, on our road systems it is perfectly legal for a car to travel at the high speed of 100 km/h, a couple of metres behind the vehicle in front in wet weather. All this without knowing if the driver is fit or understands the risks.?End of quote.

Yeah sorry, but it actually isn?t legal to travel at 100km/h a couple of metres behind the vehicle in front! There are actually laws against following too close. Here is another one of her ignorant comments: Quote.

Another example is how our bodies are subject to biomechanical tolerance limits and simply not designed to travel at high-speed. We have a very natural fear of heights but lack the ability to judge velocity. However, we still travel at high-speed. End of quote.

Yeah again, our bodies can travel at all sorts of crazily high speeds, ever been in a plane? I regularly drive (legally) over 180km/h and I haven?t died yet, not even once. In fact, my body only comes away from it with a pleasant tingling sensation. And we??lack the ability to judge velocity?? Give me a break, if that was the case none of us would ever figure out that we should slow for a corner.

Stop saying dumb stuff Genter, it makes some of us think you?re a bit of a drongo.

As I say, there are plenty of good aspects to Vision Zero. The last government introduced some of them such as lower alcohol limits, alcohol interlocks and better roads. This government will no doubt introduce more of them. They seem particularly keen on separated cycle lanes, median barriers etc, but they need to be sensible and target things that actually will make a difference.

Silly speed limits are not one of them. They will be roundly ignored, and will quite possibly make the problem worse.

Trust me, it?s already started. The Queenstown Lakes District Council has in their infinite wisdom decided to put a ?temporary? blanket 40km/h speed limit for the entire township of Arrowtown! This, despite there being very few crashes at all in this area, and most of the ones that do occur, happen at low speed, and are due to ice and the subsequent grit left on the road. The big crashes that happen there are usually due to very excessive speed coupled with excessive alcohol intake, and a 40km/h limit isn?t going to make the slightest bit of difference to those.

I wonder when the ?temporary? signs will come down. I?m picking never.


by ExPFC