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Vision Zero or Zero Vision??

September 20, 2010


Torquay, England – Oh no not again Vision Zero is back, or is it?

If the leading UK motorcycling weekly, Motorcycle News (MCN), is to be believed Vision Zero is on the way back along with the ‘Government to Ban Motorcycles’ headlines. Don’t panic, chill out. Someone at MCN has read the UK road safety group Brake manifesto and drawn the conclusion that Brakes utterance: “Our vision, Vision Zero, imagines a world where road deaths and injuries, and carbon emissions from vehicles, have been reduced to zero” means the end of biking. Add in the much used quote: “We must prevent the recruiting of new motorcyclists. In long-term thinking, I regret to say that motorcycles must go” from Professor Claes Tingvall, the Swedish architect of the Vision Zero policy, and OMG its fright night biking wise.

So what is Vision Zero? Well it is a philosophy of road safety that ultimately no one will be killed or seriously injured within the road transport system. The Vision Zero concept was thought up by Professor Claes Tingvall and supported by the then Swedish Minister of Transport, Ines Uusman, passed into Swedish law as the Road Traffic Safety Bill in October 1997. It’s since become the holy grail of European road safety, loved by professionals and pundits alike.

Now the problem with things philosophical is that they are sometime open to a wide interpretation, bit like the bible. Consider the Vision Zero philosophy for instance. Vision Zero changes the emphasis in responsibility for road traffic safety. In existing road transport systems the road user has more or less the entire responsibility for safety. There are wide-ranging rules that the road user should behave in such a way that crashes are avoided. If a crash occurs at least one road user has broken the rules and the legal system can therefore act accordingly.

In contrast, Vision Zero unequivocally states that the responsibility is shared by the system designers and the road user i.e.:-

1) The designers of the system are always ultimately responsible for the design, operation and use of the road transport system and thereby responsible for the level of safety within the entire system.

2) Road users are responsible for following the rules for using the road transport system set by the system designers.

3) If road users fail to obey these rules due to lack of knowledge, acceptance or ability, or if injuries occur, the system designers are required to take necessary further steps to counteract people being killed or seriously injured.

In short Vision Zero is all about shared responsibility, ok fine except of course for those road users who simple cannot connect cause and effect and for them, and by default the rest of us, we have paragraph 3). This is the Pandora’s Box clause the part of Vision Zero that arguable moves towards totalitarianism. It’s from here that safety cameras, urban and rural blanket speed limits, intelligent transport systems, intelligent speed adaption, throttle control etc etc etc emanate. As at least one urban road planner has said: ‘I’d only feel willing to assume ‘ultimate responsibility’ for road users if I were also to be granted ‘ultimate power’ over their actions’.

As for MCN, Vision Zero and Brake. Well as reported in MCN in May 2008 (Europe’s first Vision Zero road is good news for motorcyclists) some motorcyclists think Vision Zero is great, bikings’ a broad church so who am I to disagree. However one thing is certain, by again visiting Vision Zero MCN has given Brake considerable ‘oxygen’ on the issue allowing Brake to capitalise on its usual propaganda that biking and bikers are a disreputable bunch that need protecting from themselves.

Which leads to a question that needs to be asked. Brake and similar ‘road safety groups’ are peopled by the family and friends of victims of road crashes, the bereaved. This group is having a huge influence on road safety policy. The question. Is a relative or friend of a victim of a fatal road crash the best person to offer an objective, thought through, research based policy to improve road safety and reduce road casualties. Has this group of people the right to inflict their angst on the rest of us, and do their actions and campaigns actually make the roads safer?

© Back Roads Rider 2010

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