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Vision Zero Traffic Laws Come to the U.S.

Vision Zero is a scheme conceived in Sweden with the aim to work toward a traffic system which ensures not only mobility but also safety for its users. Its ultimate goal is the vision of zero traffic fatalities.

The scheme is guided by two main principles: the first is “No loss of life is acceptable”, and the second “In every situation a person might fail. A road system should not”. What this means is that Vision Zero puts the ultimate responsibility not on the drivers using the roads, but instead on the designers of those same roads. If accidents happen, this means that the designers of the system failed to factor in human error. People will make mistakes, so what is needed is a system in place which will minimize or altogether do away with the consequences of such mistakes. Thus, prevention rather than punishment is what this scheme revolves around.

The agency’s philosophy may sound slightly utopian, but statistics from Sweden, where it has been implemented the longest, seem to confirm its viability. While traffic has steadily increased in the country for decades now, traffic-related deaths have decreased just as steadily, reaching an all-time low in 2009.

Such desirable statistics seem to highly recommend the program, and countries around the world have shown interest in implementing it in their local contexts. In the US, it has been in use in some states since 2000, leading to a reduction in traffic fatalities of 43% in Minnesota, 48% in Utah, and 40% in Washington, according to the NYC Vision Zero Action Plan.

A few days ago New York City mayor Bill de Blasio signed a number of traffic bills into law, in cooperation with Vision Zero and a number of US advocacy organizations that have been lobbying for a change in traffic culture in New York for years.

Changes include a city-wide reduction in speed limit to 25 mph, more authority for the police to charge a driver when a pedestrian is injured or killed, stricter penalties for failing to yield to a pedestrian, as well as for taxi drivers involved in injuring or killing a pedestrian. In addition, taxi companies will be required to revoke the license of any driver of theirs involved in such a collision, where they were at fault.

Certainly, the changes in legislation need to be accompanied by a host of other changes, including tackling the unsafe infrastructure, implementing new safety technology, and educating drivers to think in a different way about safety.

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