OLR Research Report

November 14, 2007




By: Kevin E. McCarthy, Principal Analyst

You asked for information on the Swedish “Vision Zero” program, which seeks to eliminate traffic fatalities in the country.


Vision Zero is a Swedish transportation program that is based on the premise that no one should be killed or seriously injured for life in road traffic. The program was developed in 1995 and implementing legislation was adopted in 1997. The program's goal is to eliminate fatalities and serious injuries by 2020.

The program uses a multidisciplinary approach involving highway and traffic engineers, law enforcement, vehicle designers, medical specialists, educators, social scientists, media, government officials and others. Among the specific measures adopted in the program have been changes in road design, reductions in speed limits, and the use of cameras in speed enforcement. The program also involves extensive analysis of highway safety data.

A brochure explaining the program (in English) is available at There is a similar program in Norway being tested in Lillehammer. Information about this program is available at


Vision Zero was developed in 1995 by staff at the Swedish National Road Administration. They argued the traffic system needed to be to radically changed to achieve zero road fatalities and serious injuries. Vision Zero relies heavily on adopting a systems-wide approach to road safety, making the entire road system more forgiving to the likely mistakes of drivers. This is done by examining the complete driving environment (including vehicles, roads, the surrounding environment, and the traffic mix) to ensure that the energy created in crashes is optimally managed within the system so that it does not exceed the ability of the human body to absorb the energy. Vision Zero explicitly rejects trading human lives for other objectives, such as personal mobility. It also rejects using cost-benefit analysis to set road safety policies.

In 1997, the Swedish parliament passed the Road Traffic Safety Bill founded on Vision Zero. The legislation is based on four principles:

1. human life and health are paramount and take priority over mobility and other objectives of the road traffic system;

2. providers and regulators of the road traffic system share responsibility with drivers and other users;

3. road traffic systems should take account of human fallibility and minimize both the opportunities for errors and the harm done when they occur; and

4. providers and regulators must do their utmost to guarantee the safety of all citizens and cooperate with road users, and all three must be ready to change to achieve safety.

Under the shared responsibility provision the designers of the system are ultimately responsible for the design, operation, and use of the system and its level of safety. Road users are responsible for following the rules for using the system set by the designers. If the users fail to obey the rules due to a lack of knowledge, acceptance, or ability, or they obey and injuries occur nonetheless, the system designers must take steps to avoid people being killed or seriously injured.

In 1999, the government established an 11-point program to increase traffic safety to implement the legislation. The points cover:

1. special safety measures for the most dangerous roads,

2. better road safety in urban areas through changes in road design and other measures,

3. emphasis on road-user responsibility through such measures as seat belt campaigns,

4. safer conditions for cyclists,

5. improving safety in public transportation services,

6. compulsory use of studded tires in the winter,

7. better utilization of Swedish technology, including automatic in-vehicle speed adjustment systems,

8. greater responsibility placed on traffic systems designers,

9. changes in handling of traffic offenses,

10. expanding the role of voluntary organizations, and

11. studying alternative forms of financing new roads.

The program is based on the belief that the design and operation of the road system must emphasize the prevention of death and serious injury ahead of all other considerations. It differs from traditional road safety theory in arguing that deaths and serious injuries are more often the fault of the road system or environment in which the driver operates, rather than the driver himself. From the program's perspective, an accident that results in serious human injury means that the road system components were not functioning well together. Since humans are fallible, the system must be designed so that any mistakes will not cause serious or fatal injury. This approach means shifting a major share of the safety responsibility from road users to those who design the road transport system. The program uses “system designers” not only to include highway agencies but also the automotive industry, the police, politicians, and legislative bodies.

Among the specific measures that have been implemented in the program have been:

1. using wire rope barriers to divide undivided main roads to reduce head-on collisions;

2. using barriers on the side of the road to minimize rollovers and off-road crashes with trees;

3. reducing speed limits to reduce impact energy of collisions, setting the limits at 54 mph on major highways, 42 mph on major collectors, 30 mph on other main streets, and 18 mph on local streets;

4. enforcing the limits by cameras and other technologies;

5. installing roundabouts (rotaries) on all types of roads to minimize the number of crashes and the damages caused by side impact collisions at intersections;

6. changing local street design to restrict vehicle movements and give pedestrians and cyclists priority over vehicle traffic through such measures as pedestrian-only precincts, bike paths, and center road refuges; and

7. giving priority to public transportation vehicles and pedestrians on roads.

Another aspect of the program is data analysis. The Road Administration and the National Road and Transport Research Institute conduct annual evaluations in many areas. The agencies monitor road user behavior, including drunk driving, speeding, use of seatbelts and other safety equipment in cars, and the use of helmets by cyclists. They also monitor vehicle crashworthiness, emergency services rescue times, and safety opinions of the public, among other things.

In 2002, the government instituted a national road safety forum to better coordinate the initiatives taken by various parties. The forum has focused on speeding, vehicles protection systems, drunk driving, and children in traffic. Similar forums have been established at the regional and local levels.