What Is “Vision Zero,” and Why Isn’t it Working in the US?

What Is “Vision Zero,” and Why Isn’t it Working in the US?As traffic fatalities rise throughout the country, including here in North Carolina, many communities are looking into a program called “Vision Zero.” This initiative, first implemented in Sweden, aims to completely eliminate fatal traffic accidents, with a focus on bicyclists and pedestrians. This is certainly a necessary if not lofty goal, and several cities have already applied Vision Zero to their roads and infrastructures.

However, after several years, data shows that Vision Zero may not be as effective as initially thought. Why would something so successful throughout Europe have trouble gaining a foothold here in the States? Turns out it might be a people problem.

First, a little background.

What is Vision Zero?

The Vision Zero Network describes its initiative as follows:

Vision Zero recognizes that people will sometimes make mistakes, so the road system and related policies should be designed to ensure those inevitable mistakes do not result in severe injuries or fatalities. This means that system designers and policymakers are expected to improve the roadway environment, policies (such as speed management), and other related systems to lessen the severity of crashes.

Vision Zero is a multidisciplinary approach, bringing together diverse and necessary stakeholders to address this complex problem. In the past, meaningful, cross-disciplinary collaboration among local traffic planners and engineers, policymakers, and public health professionals has not been the norm. Vision Zero acknowledges that many factors contribute to safe mobility — including roadway design, speeds, behaviors, technology, and policies — and sets clear goals to achieve the shared goal of zero fatalities and severe injuries.

What this means is, in order to minimize and eliminate car accidents, governments and municipalities must focus less on changing individual driver action and more on an accident-reducing infrastructure. Cities can apply for the Vision Zero program by taking “demonstrable and significant” action in supporting its core values and principles in eliminating traffic accident and fatalities.

Called a new approach to “road safety thinking,” Swedish Parliament implemented Vision Zero in 1997 with the goal of zero deaths and serious injuries on Sweden’s roads. The program has been extremely successful in Sweden and throughout Europe – between 2001 and 2020, road deaths in the European Union dropped from 54,00 to under 20,000 and continue on a downward trajectory.

Implementing Vision Zero in the United States

A recent article in Bloomberg discusses the success of Vision Zero across Europe, noting that, “During the last decade, traffic deaths have fallen steadily throughout the European Union, with cities including Brussels, Cologne and Milan posting significant declines.” However, looking at data across the United States – including communities following Vision Zero guidelines – fatal traffic accidents continue to climb.

Although many cities and communities across the country have implemented the approach, from New York City to Seattle, experts tell Bloomberg that people embrace Vision Zero more in theory than in actual practice. Seleta Reynolds of the Los Angeles Department of Transportation explained, “A moment comes when a person shows up to do the actual [infrastructure] project, and it’s down the street from your house. Whether it’s a bike lane or a bus lane, the calculus suddenly changes, and it feels like a fundamental assault on your way of life.”

Further, advocates here in the US note that drivers in Europe are more willing to accept infrastructure changes like traffic cameras, bike lanes, and reduced speed limits. American drivers and communities are a little more resistant to these changes and restrictions, and this resistance typically works in opposition to the goals of Vision Zero. Leah Shahum of the Vision Zero Network states that to meet the goals of the initiative, “We have to change the current paradigm that prioritizes speed and free-flowing traffic. That’s the priority now over safety — no matter what people will tell you.”

Is Charlotte a Vision Zero city?

Yes. Charlotte joined the Vision Zero program in 2018, with the goal of reducing traffic crashes and eliminating accident-related deaths and serious injuries by 2030. Per their Vision Zero action plan:

In the five years of crash data evaluated in Charlotte (2013-2017), there were 731 fatal and serious injury crashes. Speeding accounted for 45 percent of fatal crashes. Charlotte’s focus on a data-driven approach with Vision Zero led to the development of a High Injury Network that identifies locations where investments in safety are most urgent. Ten percent of all streets in Charlotte account for the High Injury Network. Of those streets, 66 percent are thoroughfares, which are higher traffic volume and higher speed streets.

The action plan also discusses some of the traffic safety work completed and currently in progress here in Charlotte:

  • Improving traffic lights, including installing 56 traffic signals, 152 pedestrian intervals, and 12 school flashers
  • Increasing pedestrian access, including 71 miles of sidewalk and 115 pedestrian upgrades
  • Improving bicycle network, including 41 miles of facilities and 12 urban trail crossings marked
  • Upgrading street lighting, including 3,424 street lights added, upgraded, and transferred
  • New street projects, including 8 street projects and 12 intersection projects
  • Better road maintenance, with 1,151 miles of streets resurfaced and over 2,000 potholes repaired

The Vision Zero committee also notes that the Action Plan “is a living document that will be updated with new data as it becomes available as well as incorporate new strategies proven to be the most successful for making our streets safer.”

What if I’m in a Charlotte car accident?

When car accidents do happen, they often happen fast and without warning. It’s important to understand what to do after an accident, both in the immediate aftermath and in the days following, to ensure the insurance companies and at-fault driver don’t try to take advantage of you while you’re injured and overwhelmed.

After a traffic accident, try to take the following steps:

  • If safe and feasible, move your vehicle and yourself out of the road and harm’s way.
  • Call the police or 911 if the accident is anything more than a fender-bender or anyone is injured.
  • Ensure the police take a report, as you will need this for insurance and litigation reasons.
  • Collect contact information from the other driver, including insurance information.
  • Collect contact information from any witnesses.
  • Take photos of the accident scene, including road conditions, skid marks, etc., as well as photos of the damage to both vehicles.
  • Seek medical attention for your injuries immediately, and save all receipts related to your accident and injuries.
  • Contact your insurance company to notify them of the accident, but keep it brief and don’t get into detail.

Then, contact a Charlotte car accident attorney at Price, Petho & Associates for guidance on your next steps. We understand how to handle correspondence and negotiations with insurance companies, and can deal with the legal process while you take the time to heal from your injuries. Our lawyers have a strong record of success in both jury verdicts and settlements.

If you were hurt in an accident that wasn’t your fault, get in touch with us today. To schedule a free consultation, call 704-372-2160 or fill out our contact form. We maintain offices in Charlotte, Rockingham, and Rutherfordton, and serve clients in North Carolina and South Carolina.