Urban Update 22 Jan 2016 - Vision Zero UK Launch

Download Urban Update 22 January 2016


Vision Zero UK Launch

How many people should die on our streets and highways each year?   2000?  200? 20?  Well how about zero?  This is the goal of the Vision Zero Campaign launched in the UK on Tuesday.   The Vision Zero movement began in 1997 in Sweden.  Led by central government, it has succeeded in making the streets and highways in Sweden being among the safest in the world.

One of the ways to reduce deaths, is to reduce exposure. It is easy to reduce cyclist deaths by reducing the number of people cycling.  But this would be a totally wrong interpretation of the Vision Zero ambition, which is to encourage healthy, active mobility and especially walking and cycling, and also to reduce fear.  Around 90 percent of crashes are caused by human error.  This can lead to an approach which focuses on blaming the road users. But central to the Vision Zero philosophy is to accept that people make mistakes and to try to create a street environment that does not punish human fallibility with death and injury.  What few UK practitioners realise is that that is also what the Common Law requires – which is to have regard to the safety of careful and negligent road users – (see Yetkin vs Newham).

At the launch event Professor Anders Lie, from the, Swedish Transport Administration, outlined the measures adopted in Sweden including.. ABS for motorcycles (50 percent reduction in fatalities)

  • 2+1 roads – placing a crash barrier down the centre of rural highways to stop head on collisions -  90% reduction in fatalities  (2+1 roadis a specific category of three-lane road inter-urban road, consisting of two lanes in one direction (to enable overtaking) and one lane in the other, alternating every few kilometres, and separated usually with a steel cable barrier.
  • Seat belt reminders - 80% reduction in fatalities
  • Rearward facing child restraints CRS 90% reduction in fatalities
  • Automatic Braking Systems (ABS) on Motorcycles 50 percent reduction in fatality risk
  • Electronic Stability Control Electronic Stability Control

Latterly the focus has been shifting to urban areas. 

Speed limits should be set to ensure survival given the current state of vehicle design:

Head on

 80 kph


Side Collisions

70  kph


Rear end

40  kph



40 kph & preferably 30 kph   

25 / 19 mph


Dr Adrian Davis, of Public Health Bristol, spoke of the need for a systems wide approach, as there were so many different interests involved and so many different effects.  Obesity for example is linked to the amount of physical activity, which is in part influenced by people’s perception of road danger.  He quoted the vision for Bristol that it should be a city safe for a 10-year-old to walk independently to school.

Anna Semlyen, Co Founder, Vision Zero UK, warned that the consequences of fear, death and injury on the roads in the UK was costing at least £500 per head per individual.  When roads are dangerous, people don’t exercise enough risking obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other health problems.   The UK currently had terrible levels of cycling – as few as 4 percent of people cycling daily – amongst 5th lowest of all EU 28 countries.    Costing just £3 per head, she argued that 20 mph limits were an effective option, offering

o    20 percent fewer casualties

o    Noise reduced by half

o    An improvement in air quality equivalent to talking half the petrol cars off the road

Main roads in urban areas should go 20 as well she added.

Professor John Whitelegg, Co Founder, Vision Zero UK, spoke of the challenges involved in getting some professionals to take road safety seriously.  He related the story of an encounter between a Swedish Government minister who asked her officials, after they had indicated that they didn’t like Vision zero – what should we aim for in numbers of dead Swedish children.  They replied that it was an unfair question.  “Well I think its zero”, said the minister, adding that if they thought there should a different target then they should say so and make their views public.   Needless to say, Sweden got its Vision Zero initiative.

Vision zero means getting to grips with urban design Professor Whitelegg added – a huge increase in people walking and cycling is needed.  He also called for much more team working.  How often does a roads designer sit down with an urban designer or with a public health practitioner? – he asked.


In discussion, there the need for the proper investigation of road deaths was a repeated theme.  In the marine, rail and aviation sectors each incident is investigated and recommendations made.  On streets and highways, while coroners have powers to make recommendations, the attitude is that deaths are an unfortunate but inevitable, and there is little to be done.   The impression is one of resignation at best, and complacency at worst.

There was concern about an inherent bias towards vehicles and vehicle safety and a tendency to give pedestrians and cyclists a lower priority. Adrian Davis complained that the time saving debate is skewed and unscientific – eg that the time of people in cars are more important than people cycling or on buses.   It is these hidden but devastating biases that compromise the way cities are designed and built.

More information.



UDG Executive Supports Vision Zero

The UDG Executive has given the UK Vision Zero Campaign its support and endorsement.