IN 1997, Sweden began adopting a new approach in dealing with road accidents and deaths, one that would influence several other countries to take similar steps.
It was called, simply, “Vision Zero” and was based on the simple fact that, as humans, we are bound to make mistakes.
Swedish embassy counsellor Ola Pihlblad said the new concept turned the traditional view of road safety upside down.
Speaking to the New Sunday Times, he said the concept changed the focus, from the prevention of accidents to inculcating the view that no one should lose their lives or be seriously injured on the road.
This, he said, meant that the view of safety in the road transport system concurred with those values that apply for safety in society as a whole.
“In working life, and within the rail, shipping and air transport sectors, it goes without saying that no death should occur as a consequence of accidents.
“The main problem is not that accidents occur, it’s whether the accidents lead to death or lifelong injury.
“In order to prevent serious injury, it’s essential for the roads, and the vehicles they carry, to be adapted to match the capabilities of the people that use them,” he said.
Pihlblad added that the Vision Zero concept involved planning, designing and building roads and infrastructure to increase safety, such as median barriers.
In other words, road systems need to keep people moving, but must also be designed to protect them at every turn.
“In Sweden, safety aspects were built into the system and included when planning new infrastructure projects.
“Road traffic control and surveillance can include systems for monitoring traffic flows and weather conditions, or other measures that qualify as intelligent traffic systems.
“Also, suppliers of vehicle technology have made great strides in improving driver, passenger and pedestrian safety. An array of new systems can drastically reduce traffic-related deaths and serious injuries,” said Pihlblad.
He said Sweden also had extensive bicycle lanes in towns, “definitely a plus”, adding that despite a steady rise in traffic in the country, there was a decrease in the number of road fatalities.
Statistics culled from various sources show that the Scandinavian nation had not met its target of reducing road fatalities by 50 per cent within 10 years. The actual reduction was 13 per cent.
The target was then revised to 50 per cent by 2020, but within two years of that, road fatalities had been reduced by more than 30 per cent from the initial rate in 1997.
A comparison of numbers shows just how far behind Malaysia is when compared to Sweden, in terms of fatalities.
Sweden has a population of just over nine million while Malaysia has reached 32 million.
In 1997, at the launch of Vision Zero, the annual death rate on roads was just a bit over 500.
In Malaysia, even taking into account the higher population and vehicle numbers, the count appears disproportionate.
Annually, more than 6,000 people die on Malaysian roads, and last year, that number breached the 7,000 mark.
But is the Swedish approach relevant to Malaysia?
What are the factors behind the statistics here?
National Road Safety Council member Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye said there were three contributing factors — the human factor, road engineering and maintenance, and poor condition of vehicles.
“But, out of all these three, the attitude of drivers is the worst.
“Unless and until we can bring about behavioural change, reducing the accident rate will be an uphill task.
“There have been enough awareness campaigns and road users are aware of the laws.
“The problem is many are very reckless in their driving. So we have to strengthen law enforcement and habitual offenders need to receive the full brunt of the law.”
Lee said authorities must also look at improving road conditions as there had been far too many motorcycle accidents because of potholes.
He said there could be no compromise when it came to proper road maintenance.
Lee was speaking in response to a statement by Deputy Transport Minister Datuk Abd Aziz Kaprawi on Monday.
Aziz had said road safety campaigns had failed to bring down the number of accidents and fatalities, with the statistics continuing to rise.
He called on all stakeholders to come up with bolder steps to arrest the rising numbers.
Aziz said Malaysians should look at the practices of other countries, such as Sweden where the accident rate is 10 times lower than Malaysia.
Malaysian Institute of Road Safety Research (Miros) board member Professor Dr Wong Shaw Voon said he believed initiatives taken by the government should not be regarded as a failure.
This, he said, was because many developed countries had a higher fatality rate compared with less developed countries.
“Logically, the more people travelling on the road, the higher the incidences of road deaths. Thus, we cannot make blind comparisons,” he said.
Wong said public awareness and education, and better enforcement of current penalties for road offenders, together with engineering control of vehicles, needed to be addressed.
Lawyer Datuk Andy Low Hann Yong said he believed that the blame should not be put solely on poor enforcement.
“To solve this problem, enforcement is important, but to curb this problem thoroughly, we have to work together. We should start with awareness at the schools, such as including Malaysian road rules and regulations in the syllabus,” he said. © New Straits Times Press (M) Bhd