Vision Zero

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    by Ann Pudwell

    What if I told you that driving your car as your means of transportation was not supposed to kill you?

    And yet, traffic fatalities are still a leading cause of injury death in Alberta. The Office of Traffic Safety’s overview report for 2015 explains that although there was a 10.6 per cent reduction in traffic fatalities, there were still 330 traffic related-deaths on Alberta roadways.

    The number of traffic injuries was 17,907. The most frequently identified improper driver actions that contributed to casualty collisions were following too closely, running off the road and making a left turn across the path of oncoming traffic.

    Vision Zero was developed in Sweden and borrows from frameworks that understand the frailties as well as limitations of humans. A Vision-Zero roadway would see engineering, education and enforcement working co-operatively to ensure that in cases where a human might fail, the road system should not. For many years, injury-prevention specialists have been participating in numerous education programs to encourage the public to think that injuries do not just happen; that accidents are predictable and therefore preventable.

    The guiding principle behind Vision Zero is for us to ask ourselves how many deaths on the roadways are acceptable. Compare the number that came to your mind with the number of people in your family. Are you still thinking that is an acceptable number? I have had many very interesting – possibly heated – conversations with many people around the possible ways of implementing a Vision Zero roadway.

    Automotive manufacturers are stepping up to increase safety through engineering. Many newer vehicles come with sensors for braking, so that even if the driver fails to see an oncoming vehicle or a pedestrian, the car stops.

    Engineering has also addressed the injury issue of running off the road or crossing into oncoming traffic.

    The steering can be corrected by the vehicle and if your car has suspected that you have fallen asleep it may attempt to shake you awake.

    If these innovations save lives and decrease injuries, should this technology be included in all vehicles – or should safety be something that is based on economics?

    Engineering roadways could also include structures like traffic circles or roundabouts which are designed to keep traffic flowing, but decrease injury severity by changing the angle of the collision. The idea that seems to get the most push-back is the reduction of the speed limit. Would you be willing to have slower posted speed limits if you knew it would end up saving lives? If the cost of moving traffic faster is that we will continually have a death toll, then is arriving 10 minutes earlier really worth it?

    For more information on Vision Zero please visit the Vision Zero Advocate Institute website. It is possible, and it starts with individual commitments to support traffic safety. Take the Vision Zero Advocate Institute pledge, and decide how you will incorporate Vision Zero in your world.

    Ann Pudwell is a Health Promotion Facilitator with Alberta Health Services who works in Injury Prevention with Health Promotion Services. She can be reached via e-mail, [email protected]

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