Focusing less on reducing crashes and more on reducing fatalities

Friday, July 6th, 2018

The rate of people severely injured or killed in traffic accidents in Sweden has tumbled by about two-thirds since officials there started rethinking the problem two decades ago:

Anders Lie, a traffic specialist at the Swedish Transport Administration, says his country has managed to make its roads safer through its unconventional approach to traffic oversight: focusing less on reducing crashes and more on reducing fatalities.

“People will make errors and mistakes all the time,” Mr. Lie says. Thus, he says, traffic laws and infrastructure need to be designed with those errors in mind.

For example, in the U.S., people often walk or bike alongside cars legally traveling 45 miles an hour, Mr. Lie says. A better speed limit in such zones would be 25 mph, he says, citing research published by the Swedish Transport Administration in conjunction with the European New Car Assessment Program, an association of governments and consumer and motoring groups that tests vehicles and sets crash standards.

The risk of a pedestrian being killed by a vehicle traveling 18 to 25 mph is “very very small,” he says, citing the same research. Speeds in that range are acceptable for residential areas, he says. But city traffic, he says, should be capped at 30 mph, and freeway traffic at 50 mph.


Many strategies being deployed in Sweden are simple but grounded in science: lower speed limits, tougher drunken-driving laws, a more-rigorous approach to driver’s education. Redesigning roads can be more effective than attempting to change driver behavior, officials have found. Sweden has invested heavily in installing guardrails, which reduce the potential for head-on collisions, and roundabouts, which eliminate accidents typical of crossroad-type intersections. Mr. Lie says that on wide roads where median guardrails have been added, and where previously nothing divided the opposing lanes, fatalities have plunged 80%.


  1. Graham says:

    Well, cards on table. I am a pedestrian and bus user more than anything else. Drive occasionally but never needed to actually own a car.

    I live in a city and neighbourhood lately obsessed with traffic calming, speed bumps, bike lanes, etc. Ride over a speed bump in a bus with a driver weakly paying attention, though they are mostly good here, and you’ll wake from your reverie in a hurry.

    I have never once in my life felt imperilled from a car at an intersection, and obviously not at all when walking on a sidewalk parallel to their road.

    Bicycles, both using my sidewalk and in cutting corners at intersections, are a constant menace. My deepest hatreds in this life are reserved for the cycling community and their advocates. I would like to see corporal punishment for those using my sidewalks. I’m of course willing to not see such an extreme position advocated, but I think of it every time one of our idiot councillors or neighbourhood associations is banging on about cyclists’ safety, road access, etc.

    That felt good, thanks.

    Although that was not intended to be entirely tongue in cheek, here on a more serious note. I am closer to where they are on the speed analysis, though with the caveat that the advocacy side of the population here is already pushing for even lower limits.

    We have a number of two-lane through roads that are 40 km/h [close enough to 25 mph] and that strikes me as fine for roads of this size, though 50 [31 mph] isn’t going to do anyone any harm. Naturally, we have people who want them to be a tongue-crawling 30 km/h [18.8 mph] or slower, and still with speed bumps.

    Our city main roads default to 50 km/h [31] or 60 [37], which strike as reasonable, based on road size and configuration. Naturally, we have people screeching that we need to slow things down for the children.

    I don’t normally like to adopt this pose, but at that point I really must, as just how much dumber children are today than when I was one of them? That and how often do I see kids playing outside, let alone in the street? Sometimes. Not a lot.

    Sigh. I suppose I’d be willing to take this sort of thing on board in parts. But really “advice from Sweden” to me is basically the same sort of branding that William F. Buckley once meant when he started a log entry “The US Conference of Catholic Bishops has announced… but how can I go on?”

  2. Graham says:

    Sorry for typos!

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