Industries in Depth

Sweden has a plan to end all traffic accident deaths

Aiming for zero road deaths ... Sweden's new laws have already halved the number of fatalities Image: REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

Adam Jezard
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
Share:
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Industries in Depth?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how Mobility is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

Mobility

In 2015, over a million people lost their lives in road-related incidents around the world, according to a report by the World Health Organization. Road accidents remain the leading cause of death among young people aged 15 and 29, costing governments globally about 3% of GDP every year.

Number of people who die from road traffic accidents per year. Image: World Health Organisation

“Despite this massive – and largely preventable – human and economic toll,” the WHO said, “action to combat this global challenge has been insufficient.”

But while some nations have resorted to public safety campaigns extolling sticking to speed limits, wearing seatbelts and not drinking and driving, Sweden has gone a step further.

Zero tolerance

In 1997 Sweden introduced the Zero Vision policy that aimed to reduce the number of road-accident fatalities to zero by 2020. Reducing the danger required physical changes on the roads and new policies to enforce traffic laws.

There are now more roundabouts, fewer intersections, and vehicles cannot turn where people cross streets. More pedestrian bridges have been built, bicycles are separated from oncoming traffic and strict policing has reduced the number of drink-driving offences.

Since the scheme began, road deaths have almost halved: 270 people died in road accidents in Sweden in 2016. Twenty years earlier the figure was 541.

Compare that to the United States, where 41,100 people died in road-related incidents in 2017, according to Federal Highway Administration statistics. A look back to 1964 shows that 45,645 people died as a result of road accidents that year. That’s not much of an improvement in more than half a century, although it should be set against the context of population growth and an increase in the number of vehicles on the road.

A global example

While Sweden’s progress looks dramatic, it has struggled to meet its goal. The target date for zero deaths has been pushed back from 2020 to 2050.

Despite this, the Swedish example has been held up as a model by many governments and states. Parts of Canada, Norway, various US states and some European Union countries have all experimented with variations of the Vision Zero scheme.

If the wider world can replicate the progress made in Sweden, many lives will be saved, and there are already signs of improvement in some regions.

Many experts point to more rigorous tests for new drivers in Europe as one reason why its roads are safer than those of other countries. Some 25,300 people lost their lives in accidents on roads in EU member states in 2017, but that was almost 15,000 fewer than in the US.

It can cost more than $1,800 to learn to drive in Sweden and can be even more expensive elsewhere in Europe. In contrast, many Americans can get licences inexpensively and without the need for much tuition.

Changing the mindset

In Sweden, one of the biggest changes may be how road deaths were perceived. In a 2014 interview, one of the country’s leading road safety strategists, Matts-Åke Belin, said the hardest people to convince that Vision Zero was worth trying had been political economists.

“For them it is very difficult to buy into “zero”,” Belin said. “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.”

Changing that kind of mindset may be a crucial part of ensuring that the number of road deaths falls globally.

Have you read?
Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Industries in DepthHealth and Healthcare Systems
Share:
World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

1:50

Top 5 countries leading the sustainable tourism sector

Robin Pomeroy and Linda Lacina

April 29, 2024

About Us

Events

Media

Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum