Vision Zero – a history

Car-free Central Park, New York City

Vision Zero flows from a Safe Systems approach to road safety management in which human life and health is the first and foremost consideration when designing a road network.

A safe system recognises that people are fragile and by nature will make mistakes, so puts layers of protection around them. All parts of this system must be strengthened in combination to multiply their protective effects so if one part fails, others will continue to protect people.

While a safe systems approach has been adopted in other industries in recent decades, it was adopted only relatively recently in road transport, initially by Sweden in 1997. Another approach linked to Vision Zero and Safe Systems is Road Danger Reduction.

In the period since 1997, when Sweden adopted Vision Zero, many places have also taken up this approach.


Europe is moving towards adopting a Vision Zero target in relation to road casualties. In May 2018, the European Commission proposed a number of steps to address the high levels of fatalities and injuries on Europe’s roads in the longer term.

These included advanced safety features, such as advanced emergency braking and lane-keeping assist system for cars, Intelligent Speed Assistance (ISA) for cars, vans, trucks and buses; and pedestrian and cyclists’ detection systems for trucks. This, along with measures to systematically identify dangerous road sections and to better target investment, was done with the intention of “saving up to 10,500 lives and to avoid close to 60,000 serious injuries over 2020-2030” and contributing to the EU’s long-term goal of moving close to zero fatalities and serious injuries by 2050 (“Vision Zero”).

The process of adopting the legislation around the advanced safety features for new vehicles advanced through the European Parliament during 2018 and 2019 with a provisional deal on a package of new technologies (including Automated Emergency Braking which can detect pedestrians and cyclists, as well as overridable ISA) being provisionally agreed on 25thMarch 2019 and confirmed by the European Parliament on 15thApril 2019. These new minimum EU vehicle safety requirements will come into force from 2022 for all new cars, vans, lorries and buses sold in Europe having these features fitted as standard.



The Vision Zero concept originated in Sweden in 1997, when the Swedish parliament adopted it as the official road policy. As with other European countries, Sweden has seen the initial sharp declines in road fatalities level off in recent years (at around 270 fatalities in 2015). In 2016, Sweden published a road map for “intensified efforts” for transport safety. 


Norway has a broad political consensus about Vision Zero and a national target that a maximum of 500 people will be killed or seriously injured on the country’s roads by 2024 (down from c.800 in 2016). More from the Norwegian Council for Road Safety here.

Interesting is a particular focus on transport in urban areas and a target to curb growth of private motor vehicle usage. This includes investing in public transport and infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists and imposing restrictions for cars in the cities.

The focus of policy is safe infrastructure (including reducing traffic in cities, building separate and connected pedestrian and cycle paths, removing dangerous crossings and designing secure crossings) and low speed limits and actual speeds (30 km/h speed limit and actual speed in streets with high numbers of pedestrians and cyclists).

The Netherlands

The Dutch approach to Vision Zero is called “Sustainable Safety” or “Systematic Safety” and was first proposed in 1991 and adopted across all levels of government in 1997. In terms of road design in urban areas, there has been a focus on speed reduction (30kph zones and traffic calming), an improved ability for people to cross the road, protected cycling facilities and reduction in carriageway capacity. More in a report by Northeastern University, Boston here.


States such as Victoria and Western Australia have adopted a Vision Zero approach.

New Zealand

In June 2018, the New Zealand Government in its Policy Statement on Land Transport 2018/19 – 2027/28, committed to “delivering a land transport system free of death and serious injury”. The potential for a Vision Zero approach would be considered in the new road safety strategy and action plan which would be developed over the next 12 to 18 months.


Many cities in the United States have adopted Vision Zero. The Vision Zero Network lists over 40 US cities (principally on the East and West coasts) which it characterises as Vision Zero cities where they have set a clear goal of eliminating traffic fatalities and severe injuries, have committed to this publicly, have a strategy in place and have engagement from key departments.

VisionZeroNetwork – Map of US Vision Zero Communities (

New York City

The original NYC Vision Zero Action Plan dates from 2014. Resources and information are brought together on the NYC Vision Zero website. The most recent report is for Year 5 of the progamme.

The original NYC Vision Zero Action Plan (2014) and the Year 5 report (March 2019)

This report notes that compared to 2013, the year before Vision Zero began, overall traffic deaths have fallen by one-third (in 2013 there were 299 traffic deaths in New York City and in 2018 the figure was 202 with consistent falls for each year in between). Pedestrian deaths have decreased by 37% since 2013 and Manhattan and Staten Island recorded their lowest ever number of deaths. The actions that form the New York City plans are highlighted here.

Even in New York, however, there are signs that the progress of recent years may have stalled with a reported increase of 30% in deaths in the first 4 months of 2019. Campaigners have called for greater emphasis on:

  • altering the recent focus of enforcement away from people cycling and e-bikes back on to drivers;
  • implementing traffic-calming measures;
  • addressng delays in implementing safety schemes;
  • being prepared to remove on-street parking in order to implement safety; improvement for pedestrians and people cycling (eg protected cycle lanes); and
  • improving clear-up rates for hit-and-runs.

Los Angeles has a Vision Zero Action Plan and Progress Report ( 2018).

Washington DC has a Vision Zero Initiative with a Vision Zero Plan of Action (2015) and a 2017 progress report.


London introduced its Vision Zero strategy in its 2018 Mayor’s Transport Strategy. Road safety policy in London has evolved from a Safe Systems approach to Vision Zero in the past few years. This is described in more detail in our summary here. This is based around:

  • Safe speeds– encouraging speeds appropriate to the street.
  • Safe streets– designing an environment forgiving of mistakes.
  • Safe vehicles– reducing risk posed by the most dangerous vehicles.
  • Safe behaviours– improving the behaviours of people using our roads.
  • Post-collision response– learning from collisions and improving justice and care for victims.

The London Vision Zero Action plan is available here.