Taming Killer Roads to Reduce Car Accident Rates

The NZ Herald reported today on the ’Vision Zero’ programme, it’s proven internationally successful in lowering alarming number of road deaths.  This could be a game changer for NZ which has one of the highest car accident rates in the developed world. Auckland is the main offender and we’ve written on the subject before at https://crashmanagement.co.nz/auckland-car-crash-central/

Auckland’s ambitious plan to cut rampant car accident deaths and serious injuries on its roads is based on an international concept which has reduced road tolls in cities across the globe. The concept, known as Vision Zero, originated in Sweden 20 years ago and is the theory behind Auckland’s new road safety thrust according to WSP Opus, the infrastructure consultancy helping city authorities to implement the plan. Sweden has cut its car accident road toll in half in the 20 years since it adopted Vision Zero – this despite a steady increase in traffic volumes – and Auckland is hoping it can cut the number of fatalities and road trauma by up to 60 per cent over the next 10 years by adopting the concept.

Phil Harrison, technical director of transport at WSP Opus, says he believes the Swedish experience shows the Auckland target is credible.  In 1997 when Sweden first adopted Vision Zero its car accident road toll stood at 541. Last year, according to figures produced by the Swedish Road Administration, the number had reduced to 254, more than half the 1997 total.

There have been similar successes in other cities: New York and San Francisco in the United States both adopted Vision Zero two years ago and last year both cities recorded the lowest number of car accident road deaths since records were first kept more than 100 years ago, while in Mexico City the number of deaths was reduced by 18 per cent after one year.

Auckland’s plan comes as car accident deaths on the region’s roads have reached alarming levels. In the last four years alone the number has increased three times as much as in the rest of the country. Last year car accident incidents took the lives of 64 people in Auckland and caused serious injuries to more than 600. A 60 per cent reduction in fatalities would lower this number to 26; this means close to 200 lives could be saved over the next 10 years.

Vision Zero holds that no car accident deaths or serious injuries are acceptable on roads. Widely taken up in cities throughout Europe and North America, the concept has also been adopted in New Zealand by Hamilton (and was endorsed by the government earlier this year) and is now on Auckland Council’s agenda.

“We seem to accept death and injury as part of travelling,” says Harrison. “How many deaths would we accept from our drinking water? If there were even one or two a year there would be an outcry and a public inquiry,” he says. “If we had 200 killed in air crashes in a year we would hear all about it. But with the road toll we just say ‘oh well, that is just part of how it has always been’.”

Harrison says Vision Zero is about questioning this attitude: “We won’t stop car accidents happening altogether but we believe we can reduce their impact, their seriousness. At the same time by making it safer to walk or cycle we can encourage greater use of those modes – and prompt more people into public transport. “This in turn will reduce the number of car trips being taken, so we will be increasing safety there too,” he says. The commitment to a 60 per cent reduction in death and serious injury by 2028 comes as Auckland has experienced a 78 per cent increase in fatalities between 2014 and 2017, compared to 23 per cent for the rest of New Zealand.

Harrison says WSP Opus is working alongside road safety partners including AT, Auckland Council, New Zealand Transport Agency, Ministry of Transport, Police, ACC and district health boards. He says a “whole suite” of interventions are planned including lowering speed limits, installing more safety cameras, laying down high friction road surfacing, creating better and safer pedestrian infrastructure, targeting high-risk intersections and fixing poor alignments on rural roads.

Harrison says Auckland is “just starting on the journey” and expects it will be several years before statistical data is available to fully gauge the impact of these measures. However he says WSP Opus has worked closely with authorities in Stockholm, Sweden, to develop a road safety programme (it has both reduced car accident fatalities and increased accessibility for cyclists) and this expertise, along with insights from work carried out by WSP in New Jersey and Philadelphia, means Auckland is starting from a good base of knowledge.

Already speed reductions are in place in some areas of the city reflecting the mixes of activity taking place along these roads. Examples are Ponsonby Rd (limit reduced to 40kmh) and Queen St and Wynyard Quarter (30kmh). Harrison says there may also be a case for reducing speed limits on some rural roads to as low as 60kmh: “The severity of crashes can be greater on rural roads because speeds are higher and we know crashing at 70 or 80kmh instead of at 100kmh makes a huge difference to the likelihood of serious injury; installing guardrails would also prevent head-on crashes and cars ending up in places like ditches.”

Crash Management fully supports the objective of reducing car accident rates and works with clients to improve fleet health and driver safety.  We really haven’t seen the H&S sector take the initiative in the fleet space yet, though welcome the opportunity to collaborate and share resources to save lives on our roads.



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