Why Swe­den has world’s safest roads

Lesotho Times - - Motoring -

STOCK­HOLM — Fewer peo­ple are killed on the roads in Swe­den per head of pop­u­la­tion than in any other coun­try around the world. It’s an im­pres­sive record that begs a ques­tion: What is the se­cret of this Scan­di­na­vian road­safety suc­cess?

Im­ages of wrecked cars wedged into one another, shat­tered wind­screens and am­bu­lances rac­ing to the scene are fa­mil­iar from news bul­letins all over Europe, North Amer­ica and be­yond. They are rarer in Swe­den. Nat­u­rally road ac­ci­dents still oc­cur, but safety aware­ness is very high.

The Swedish po­lit­i­cal agenda’s Vi­sion Zero con­cept aims to achieve a high­way sys­tem with no fa­tal­i­ties or se­ri­ous in­juries on roads at all. The con­cept was ap­proved by Swe­den’s par­lia­ment in 1997.

It seems to be work­ing, since ac­cord­ing to the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion, the road death toll per 100 000 per­sons in Swe­den is just three per 100 000. On Ger­man roads by com­par­i­son, which are reck­oned very safe by world stan­dards, the rate is a sta­tis­ti­cal 4.7.

Vi­sion Zero’s most im­por­tant prin­ci­ple is that hu­man life and health are para­mount, tak­ing pri­or­ity over the need for mo­bil­ity and other ob­jec­tives of the road traf­fic sys­tem. Providers and reg­u­la­tors of the road traf­fic sys­tem share their re­spon­si­bil­ity with users

The aim is re­duce road fa­tal­i­ties to zero by 2020 at a time when an in­creas­ing num­ber of peo­ple are us­ing highways.

Why are Swedish roads so safe? Speed lim­its: Com­pared with other coun­tries the pace of travel on Swedish roads is re­laxed. There is a sim­ple rea­son for this, says traf­fic ex­pert An­ders Lie of the Swedish Trafikver­ket au­thor­ity: “If any­thing goes wrong, slower hurts less.”

On coun­try roads, driv­ers are re­stricted to a blan­ket speed of 80km/h with an of­fi­cial mo­tor­way limit of 120 km/h, although most drive no faster than 110 km/h. It is planned to im­pose a limit of 40km/h on traf­fic in all built-up ar­eas and this is al­ready the case in many com­mu­ni­ties.

Speed traps: Swe­den counts a to­tal of 1500 fixed speed traps, although Lie ad­mit­ted that only a tenth of these are ac­tive at any given time. “We rely on the trust be­tween cit­i­zens and the rest of so­ci­ety. Not many peo­ple set out to break the law, said Lie.

As long as driv­ers ad­here to speed lim­its, most of the cam­eras record their speeds, but no speed­ing fines are is­sued. If traf­fic is found to be mov­ing faster, the cam­eras are re­ac­ti­vated and of­fend­ers are fined un­til the av­er­age recorded speed on the stretch of road is seen to have dropped. The fines are heavy — be­tween 150 and 250 eu­ros (R2250 and R3750).

“We do not hand out a lot of tick­ets,” said Lie. The Swedish state does not view the fines as a source of in­come.

Ac­ci­dent anal­y­sis: Each fa­tal ac­ci­dent is an­a­lysed by ex­perts to de­ter­mine the cause: How did the in­juries come about? Did the state or the road play a role? Was the car it­self to blame. Was the driver trav­el­ling too fast? Was the driver wear­ing a seat­belt? Had he or she con­sumed al­co­hol?

“We have seen that we are deal­ing with or­di­nary peo­ple who com­mit ev­ery­day er­rors,” said Lie. “An ac­ci­dent can hap­pen to any­one, any day of the week.”

Road im­prove­ments: In re­cent years the Swedes have in­vested a great deal in their roads. “We are a large coun­try with not many peo­ple in it, and we can there­fore not spend as much on highways as say the Ger­mans do,” said Lie.

On coun­try roads the car­riage­ways are of­ten sep­a­rated by phys­i­cal bar­ri­ers which are much harder to cross than the tra­di­tional white lines mark­ing the road cen­tre. This mea­sure alone has slashed ac­ci­dents on this type of road by 90 per­cent.

Anti-al­co­hol drive: One in five fa­tal road ac­ci­dents in Swe­den in­volves some­one at the wheel hav­ing con­sumed al­co­hol. This prob­lem has proved to be a hard nut to crack, said Lie. Around 1.5 mil­lion Swedish mo­torists a year take a breath test.

A to­tal of 90 000 buses, lor­ries and taxis are fit­ted with “al­colocks,” which means the driver can­not start the ve­hi­cle with­out tak­ing a breath test. If the test shows pos­i­tive, the ve­hi­cle will not start.

One glass of beer only: The ex­pert stressed that low­er­ing the le­gal limit of blood al­co­hol in Swe­den from the com­mon 0.05 per cent to 0.02 per cent has been a boon. In many other coun­tries, a driver could get away with con­sum­ing two glasses of beer and still be un­der the limit. In Swe­den one glass of beer is the max­i­mum per­mit­ted.

“We have given a clear sig­nal to so­ci­ety as a whole,” said Lie. “Ei­ther you drink or you drive.” — DPA

Each fa­tal ac­ci­dent is an­a­lysed by ex­perts to de­ter­mine the cause.

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