In late February this year, I received an email from the International Transport Forum (ITF) that explained their wonderful work in lowering road fatalities. This email reminded me of my own experience in India.
From Aug. 10 to 12, 2009, I went to India to participate in a conference in honor of my doctoral dissertation director, Professor Krishna Kumar. The conference was held at the Indian Institute of Management in the beautiful city of Bangalore.
There was no tour bus although Bangalore is a city of well over a million residents. We hired a private driver to take us to nearby attractions. On a two-lane highway, there was a farm truck coming at full speed from the opposite direction in our lane.
We avoided the truck and were told that no one in India pays attention to traffic regulations. On our return trip on the same day, we saw one person killed on the same road, but almost no one paid attention.
According to the ITF, 1.3 million people die on roads worldwide every year, meaning that 3,500 people are killed every day in car crashes.
When we talk about road safety, Vision Zero comes to mind. To find out more about Vision Zero, I visited my favorite website, Wikipedia. Ever since the popular search engines that I relied on led me to "circle the wagons" because of the continuous advertising of other websites, I have returned to Wikipedia. The site usually gives me most of what I want to know without forcing me to go back and forth.
According to Wikipedia, the number of road deaths in Korea was 6,449 in 1980 decreasing to 5,092 in 2013, while in the same period the number of deaths in the United States went from 51,091 32,719. The number of deaths in Sweden where the Vision Zero program started was 848 in 1980 that was lowered to 260 in 2013.
For a more meaningful comparison, the numbers of road deaths per million people in 2013 were 101 in Korea, 104 in the U.S. and only 27 in Sweden. The same statistics for other countries includes: 51 in Australia, 65 in Canada, 51 in France, 41 in Germany, 40 in Japan, 53 in Switzerland, and 28 in the United Kingdom. Korea and the United States have the highest road fatalities among advanced countries.
These numbers lead us back to Vision Zero.
A core principle of Vision Zero, as quoted in Wikipedia, is that "Life and health can never be exchanged for other benefits within society rather than the more conventional comparison between costs and benefits, where a monetary value is placed on life and health, and then that value is used to decide how much money to spend on a road network towards the benefit of decreasing how much risk."
Many years ago when a major car manufacturer faced the unpleasant choice of whether they had to recall defective cars, I remember one of their spokespeople saying that it would be cheaper to pay compensation to the family of crash victims than recalling so many cars. Clearly, Vision Zero opposes such an approach.
Vision Zero does not suggest any magic wand to lower the road death rate to zero, but encourages traffic planners to place priority on human lives over costs. Road designs with a maximum focus on safety are one such approach. Many jurisdictions have adopted heavy traffic fines as another approach toward Vision Zero.
In December 2015, for instance, Washington, D.C.'s Department of Transportation announced an initiative to eliminate traffic fatalities with press coverage heavily focused on traffic fines for speeding. (Ashley Halsey III and Luz Lazo, "Violate D.C. traffic laws? It's gonna cost you a lot," the Washington Post, Dec. 10, 2015)
In Washington, D.C., speed cameras are at many road intersections. The only places where cameras are not needed are I-295, I-395, and I-495 where traffic is so congested all the time that you cannot drive fast even if you want to.
Because of the many speed cameras, you rarely see police officers chasing speeding drivers. The cameras work 24 hours a day with no interruptions. If you exceed D.C. speed limits by more than 25 miles per hour and get caught, the fine is $1,000.
If you turn right when there is a sign saying "No right turn on red," the fine is $200.The only problem is that the signs of "no turn on red" are so small that they are hardly noticed especially in the dark.
In closing, I have one piece of advice for you, based on my study of more than 1,000 automobile crashes: Increase the distance between your car and the car in front of you. This alone will lower your probability of getting involved in a crash by more than 50 percent. If you are more careful when changing lanes, the probability is lowered by nearly 70 percent.
Chang Se-moon (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the director of the Gulf Coast Center for Impact Studies.