Americans tend to think of Sweden as a snow-covered mecca in northern Europe—a place where people cross country ski to work, wear cable-knit sweaters, and eat lots of meatballs. But the Swedish people have made many weighty contributions to the global society—everything from the centigrade thermometer (Anders Celsius was Swedish) to dynamite (Alfred Nobel), the universal pipe wrench, the zipper, and cars such as Volvo. Vision Zero is among their latest contributions, and it reflects a unique point of view on road safety.
Anytime large vehicles occupy the same space as pedestrians and bicyclists, bad things can happen. When a fatality occurs, it is usually because an individual falls into the exposed space along the sides of high-clearance trucks and get crushed beneath the rear wheels. On construction and mining sites, companies are able to limit the interactions between people and trucks. On the average road or city street, though, such control is virtually impossible. The combination of truck blind spots and distracted driving, walking, and even bicycling is a recipe for disaster. For decades, many countries have had ordinances in place that require large vehicles to be equipped with side guards covering this open space along the sides of vehicles. Only in the last few years have these ordinances started to appear in cities across the U.S., but there is growing momentum.
Ask safety experts what makes American roads so dangerous and they tend to reduce it down to three simple words: belts, booze, and speed. Of course, there are other contributors to traffic deaths. An improving economy has more people commuting to work by car. Mobile technology has led to a serious spike in distracted driving. And, in many parts of the U.S., a crumbling infrastructure makes the simple act of driving more dangerous. But those three perennial problems are the main causes behind a shocking 14% increase in traffic deaths in America from 2015 to 2017—amounting to more than 40,000 deaths per year.