What to campaign for

456 pedestrians died on UK roads in 2018.

Reported road casualties in Great Britain, 2018, DfT

Having Vision Zero as an umbrella for road safety policies can be immensely powerful. If a target has been set to reduce casualties to zero, the impact of this should be seen across all of the policies of the highway or transport authority and arguably far wider into health, education and planning. 

What can be difficult for such a high-level aspiration is for communities and campaigners to know what they should demand. Below we set out some key Vision Zero policies, showing what is effective and what to ask for. These focus on built-up areas (including cities, towns and villages) where casualties amongst those on foot and those cycling tend to be highest.

One concern with Vision Zero is that in its quest for safety it could remove the most vulnerable from our streets. Requirements for cyclists to wear fluorescent and protective equipment, for example, might discourage people from choosing to cycle; keeping people barricaded behind safety infrastructure will make streets less attractive places to walk. Sweden’s Vision Zero approach has also been criticised for being too car-centric, with improvements, such as better safety measures in cars, principally benefiting motorists.

Vision Zero’s focus, therefore, must be on policies that reduce the sources of threat on our roads, which come principally from motor vehicles. At its heart these are policies that enable walking, cycling and the use of public transport, which pose little threat to others. These modes are also healthy, low carbon, less polluting, and enjoyable! More people out of cars on our streets is also better for business.

Similarly, a Vision Zero strategy that relies simply on education and changing behaviour will not work. What is needed is a fundamental change in how we design our streets…putting people before vehicles.

  • Slower speeds – Speed limits should be in line with the human body’s tolerance to external forces. Any impact greater than 20mph/30kmh greatly increases the risk of dying or being seriously injured in a collision. Research shows that 20mph limits can reduce casualties by up to 40% in places where people and vehicles mix. Obviously there is much to be done to ensure compliance with these lower speed limits. More here.
  • Safe junctions and crossings – Almost all pedestrian casualties occur when people are crossing the road. People are at greatest risk when crossing provisions are non-existent or poor, or when they have to wait too long to cross. Important features include direct crossings, frequent crossings, short wait times and sufficient time to cross. More here.
  • Safe space for cycling – In built-up areas, the vast majority of cycling casualties occur on main roads. Across the UK, as in much of north-west Europe, protected cycle lanes must be a standard part of the design of main roads in built-up areas. More here.
  • Less traffic – By reducing number of motor vehicles on our roads, we can remove the danger at its source. Road user charging is effective and can ensure drivers are paying closer to the true costs and impacts of motor vehicles. BUT this is also about increasing provision for walking, cycling and public transport for example through Low-Traffic Neighbourhoods, car-free areas and pedestrianised spaces, walking and cycling networks, segregated cycle lanes, bus priority schemes and more efficient and sustainable freight and deliveries. More here.
  • Safe vehicles – There are a huge range of safety features that protect those inside vehicles, including seat belts, padded dashboards and airbags. Far less developed are measures to protect those outside of vehicles. The adoption of Intelligent Speed Assistance (ISA); “direct vision” standards for lorries that give drivers a greater chance of seeing pedestrians and cyclists; and Autonomous Emergency Braking are all significant to those on foot and cycling . More here.
  • Safe behaviours and enforcement – While Vision Zero understands that people make mistakes, they still have a role in complying with traffic laws and not posing harm to others. Most collisions are linked to a few behaviours including speeding; careless and dangerous driving; distraction (eg using a mobile phone); drink or drug driving; and non-compliance, such as driving without a licence or insurance. Marketing, training and education can all play a role in addressing these behaviours, but clear police enforcement is paramount. More here.