Thursday, May 15, 2014

Can traffic deaths go the way of smallpox?

In the United States we have become desensitized to traffic deaths. That doesn't mean we don't mourn, of course, but it means we seem to have accepted them as just a normal part of living - much the way people used to accept death from smallpox or cholera. I've never understood why the continual stream of students killed driving to and from school is not cause for the sort of national campaigns that attended, for instance, the now-debunked idea that inoculations cause autism.

Isn't there a different way to view traffic safety? There is. A New York Times article this week described how Sweden is pushing to reduce the country's traffic deaths to as close to zero as they can get.

In "De Blasio Looks Toward Sweden for Road Safety," reporter Matt Flegenheimer describes how the Swedish Parliament adopted Vision Zero in 1997 as the national foundation for all its road safety operations. Since then the number of traffic fatalities in Sweden has been cut in half. The fatality rate in Stockholm, 1.1 deaths per 100,000, is less than one-third of New York City’s rate. The national rate in Sweden, 2.7 deaths per 100,000, is the world's lowest.

The article notes that in American states with Vision Zero policies, including Minnesota and Utah, fatality rates fell more than 25 percent more quickly than the national rate.

And, it says, Swedish authorities weren't keen on the value of education or enforcement on pedestrian safety. (In 2012, after two men were hit in two days at Stonewall and College streets in uptown Charlotte, and one died, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police began a brief campaign of ticketing jaywalkers, although the two men who were hit were crossing the street in crosswalks.)