Could Swedish-style traffic safety measures save lives in Colorado

Swedish law officially permits zero deaths in car accidents each year. While achieving that goal has proved elusive, Sweden has made many traffic safety efforts to eliminate fatal traffic accidents. Steps include reducing speed limits and designing every inch of street space to anticipate and accommodate human error.

The tough measures have paid off. Sweden now has the lowest number of traffic fatalities in the world, according to a recent article in the New York Times.

With Colorado reporting 478 traffic fatalities last year, our state is a long way from Sweden’s success in eliminating car accident deaths. Sweden has a population of more than 9.5 million people (compared to 5.2 million in Colorado), yet only 264 people were killed in traffic accidents in the whole country in 2013, according to the New York Times.

Some areas of the United States, including New York City, are considering adoption of an approach similar to Sweden’s – setting a goal of zero traffic deaths. The question is: Could Sweden’s approach work in a place like Colorado?

Preventing Traffic Fatalities the Swedish Way

The Swedish Parliament adopted the goal of no traffic deaths in 1997, calling the effort “Vision Zero.” Since then, fatality rates have dropped dramatically. Now fewer than half as many people are killed each year in Sweden compared to 1997. The death rate of 2.7 deaths per 100,000 people is the world’s lowest.

For comparison, Colorado’s fatality rate is 9.2 deaths per 100,000 people.

Sweden has achieved this feat not through education or enforcement, which tend to be the preferred approaches in the United States. Instead, streets are designed with the idea that people will make mistakes and that drivers and pedestrians aren’t perfect.

On most city streets, for example, the speed limit is 20 mph or lower. There are median barriers on most suburban streets that separate two-way traffic, and there are numerous roundabouts. These have actually increased the potential for minor crashes in some locations, but serious crashes in areas with roundabouts and barriers have all but disappeared.

Sweden has also put a congestion-based toll plan in place to reduce traffic volume in targeted areas. A now-defunct program that allowed homeowners to decide locations for speed bumps has left some Swedish streets with bumps every 65 feet.

As the New York Times describes, all of these efforts result in the creation of a “social contract” between the state and its citizens where “if residents follow the most basic traffic laws, engineers can design roads to guard against all fatalities.”

Putting such a plan in place in Colorado would present challenges because our driving culture is so different, as are our laws and levels of highway funding. Still, with the fatality rate for car accident deaths so much higher here than in Sweden, it is worth considering what techniques could be adapted for Colorado.

One thing that is the same here as in Sweden: Everyone is a lot safer if drivers follow the rules of the road.

Contact Our Colorado Car Accident Law Firm

Fort Collins Wrongful Death Attorney Steve Ray is a former Marine Corps judge now fights for the rights of accident victims in Fort Collins and Northern Colorado. If you have been seriously injured in a car accident, he brings more than 35 years of legal experience and military discipline to pursuing your claim for compensation.

He will meet with you to discuss your case and, if a claim is possible, pursue the maximum financial recovery available. If we cannot recover money for you, you will pay nothing for our legal services.

Contact us today to discuss your case in a free consultation.