Can ‘Vision Zero’ be achieved in the UK?

By Rachel White,
cycling on segregated cycle lane in Manchester

As ‘Vision Zero’, a road traffic safety project aimed at creating roads with no fatalities or serious injuries, is launched in the UK we ask why it is taking so long to be adopted here when it was initially introduced in Sweden in 1997.

1,775 people died on Britain’s roads in 2014 and 22,807 were seriously injured. This is an increase of 4% and 5% respectively since 2013 according to annual figures released by the Department for Transport.

Of those that died 113 were cyclists and 446 were pedestrians. Had this number of people died or become seriously injured in a single year by some other cause there would be public outcry and yet it is, for some reason, accepted as a price we have to pay for our increased mobility.

The basic principle of ‘Vision Zero’ is that no loss of life is acceptable.

Based on the fact that humans make mistakes it takes responsibility for road safety away from road users and places it on the road system design. It does this through four solution areas:

  • Infrastructure: safety aspects are built into the planning and construction of the system
  • Vehicle Technology: Including automatic braking systems and vehicle safety
  • Services and Education: Including driver education
  • Control and Surveillance: Safety information and slower speeds

‘Vision Zero’ halved road deaths in Sweden between 2000 – 2009 and has already been picked up in Brighton and Hove, Edinburgh and Northern Ireland but we believe it needs to be rolled out across the whole of the UK to protect all road users including vulnerable road users such as cyclists and pedestrians.

To do this we need buy-in from UK and devolved Governments to ensure the right policies are in place to create safer streets which is why Sustrans’ Campaign for Safer Streets calls for slower speeds such as a default of 20 mph in residential areas and for safer segregated cycling infrastructure on main roads.

No one would argue against the need to reduce those killed on our streets and yet the UK and devolved Governments have failed to adopt ‘Vision Zero’ to date, presumably because to really commit to it they would need a level of investment they are not prepared to give despite £15 billion being invested on our road network in England overall in the next five years.

Small steps are being taken.

In December the UK Government published its road safety strategy to meet its manifesto commitment “to reduce the number of cyclists and other road users killed or injured on our roads every year”.  However, without sufficient funding allocated and policies directed through the Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy to make roads more pedestrian and cyclist friendly they are unlikely to achieve this.

At present funding for cycling alone is likely to drop from the low investment of £4 per head to less than £1 per head in England.

If we want to start along the road towards ‘Vision Zero’ then we need the UK Government and devolved Governments to make more of a commitment now.

If you want to help put pressure on the UK Government to put aside more funds for creating safer streets for walking and cycling, please take our campaign action and ask your MP to contact Patrick McLoughlin MP, Secretary of State for Transport, asking him to allocate substantial funds to walking and cycling.