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No Accident: Eliminating Injury and Death on Canadian Roads

No Accident: Eliminating Injury and Death on Canadian Roads

Автором Neil Arason

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No Accident: Eliminating Injury and Death on Canadian Roads

Автором Neil Arason

607 pages
8 hours
Apr 29, 2014


Chapter 3

Neil Arason

Children, pedestrians, cyclists and those who use public transport have been forgotten in the design of our cities.  This chapter makes a case to re-work urban order and shift it away from old style thinking and toward the road users of the new century.  

Apr 29, 2014

Об авторе

Neil Arason is a member of the Road Safety Research and Policies Standing Committee of the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators. He has contributed to numerous publications and studies, and is co-chair of a national task force on pedestrian safety. He believes that if we take serious steps now, deaths and severe injuries from our roads can be eliminated by 2035.

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No Accident - Neil Arason



Eliminating Injury and Death on Canadian Roads


Foreword by Ralph Nader

Wilfrid Laurier University acknowledges the financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund for our publishing activities.

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

Arason, Neil, 1965–, author

        No accident : eliminating injury and death on Canadian roads / Neil Arason.

Includes bibliographical references and index.

Issued in print and electronic formats.

ISBN 978-1-55458-963-0 (pbk.).—ISBN 978-1-55458-964-7 (pdf).

—ISBN 978-1-55458-965-4 (epub)

         1. Traffic safety—Canada. I. Title.

HE5614.5.C2A67 2014         363.12’50971         C2013-905944-X         C2013-905945-8

Cover design by David Drummond. Front-cover image by Getty Images_134573983. Text design by Daiva Villa, Chris Rowat Design.

© 2014 Wilfrid Laurier University Press

Waterloo, Ontario, Canada


This book is printed on FSC recycled paper and is certified Ecologo. It is made from 100% post-consumer fibre, processed chlorine free, and manufactured using biogas energy.

Printed in Canada

Every reasonable effort has been made to acquire permission for copyright material used in this text, and to acknowledge all such indebtedness accurately. Any errors and omissions called to the publisher’s attention will be corrected in future printings.

No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior written consent of the publisher or a licence from the Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency (Access Copyright). For an Access Copyright licence, visit http://www.accesscopyright.ca or call toll free to 1-800-893-5777.








I Know Your Type


The State of Affairs


The Ethical City


The Finished Road


Regulating One of the World’s Most Dangerous Consumer Products


Vehicles That Protect People from Injuries


The Vehicle That Would Not Crash


The Silent War



List of Illustrations

Anti-speeding publicity

Child blamed for his own death, 1940s

Pedestrian-safety poster, UK


Raised pedestrian crossing

One-directional street closure

Pedestrian scramble, Calgary

Prohibition of right-turn-on-red

Advanced stop line at pedestrian crossing

Hawk pedestrian crossing

Pedestrian median

Danish offset pedestrian crossing

Roundabout designed for pedestrian safety

Stop sign obstructed by plant growth

Bicycle box

Coloured bicycle lane

Cycle track

Variable transverse pavement markings

Vehicle-activated LED chevron signs

Tensioned cable barrier on median

Crash attenuator


Vehicle-size mismatch

Rear guard on truck

Inflatable seat belt

Centre airbag

Vehicle with six airbags

Vehicle with advanced pedestrian protection

Vehicle with bull bars

1948 Tucker with Cyclops eye

Pedestrian-detection system with auto-braking


No Accident: Eliminating Injury and Death on Canadian Roads addresses the carnage (28,000 Canadian lives lost in the past ten years and many more serious injuries) by a systemic analysis of the wide range of causes of safety that could be implemented or intensified. Indeed, Canada can advance life-saving conditions on its highways and in its motor vehicles simply by catching up to the nineteen countries whose record by many measures is better.

Author Neil Arason rejects the fatalistic attitude behind the word accident and in very interesting manners brings readers to understand that not all traffic safety measures are equal. Easier than expecting all starting points to be driver behaviours, with all their variables and temperaments, are the systemic engineering approaches of vehicle crashworthiness, vehicle collision avoidance, safer roadways, and such stable regulatory adjustments to the human element—which he does not neglect.

From the 1960s on, when long-suppressed crashworthiness became mandatory safety standards—seat belts, collapsible steering columns, padded interiors, stronger rollover and side protections, head restraints, and later air bags—the fatality tolls declined in response. But after additional improvements in brakes and tires, the auto company lobbyists slowed the regulatory incorporation of ready and feasible safety technologies to a near standstill in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s. This produced a backlog that Mr. Arason believes should become the basis for a renewed national motor vehicle highway safety mission that reduces the horrendous costs—human, economic, and psychological on victims, their families, and society at large.

This is not a narrow-gauged book. Instead, it is a very well-written and documented story, comprehensive in scope, motivating in design, and elevating in its global humanitarian purposes. Mr. Arason also pays attention to getting around on the ground in much healthier ways than by motor transport.

No Accident makes a powerful case for Canadians and their governments to put road safety on the front burner so that the many exciting improvements that are part of a new international movement, pushing forward with the safe system approach, are adopted. He summarizes these available actions very well in his Prologue.

Past successes in reducing casualties and costs due to safety advances tend ironically to usher in years of complacency and policy avoidance. Politicians learn that such indifference invites congenial arrangements with the motor vehicle industry. Therefore, civic jolts are needed to arouse the public to a realization that every time they hear of serious injuries in a vehicle collision they know enough to say, This could have been prevented. Before seat belts, people shrugged and blamed the fates or the drivers. Now a frequent reaction is to ask whether they were wearing their seat belts or whether their injuries were reduced by the inflated airbags.

This book understands that raising informed expectations among Canadians will push their governments, the auto industry, and the influential insurance companies to move to higher levels of life-saving performance with all the benefits that flow therefrom.

I commend Mr. Arason’s engrossing book to any Canadian who drives, is a passenger or pedestrian or bike rider, and who wants children to be protected from the mayhem, inflicted on so many unprotected generations of youngsters, from what remains their leading cause of death year after year. You’re sure to find ways to participate.

Ralph Nader

Author, Unsafe at Any Speed

Washington, DC


I could not have written this book without the help of many people. To begin, I would like to thank those who provided informal peer review of particular chapters or sections of the manuscript:

• Dr. Doug Beirness, Beirness and Associates Inc.

• Dr. Jeff Brubacher, Department of Emergency Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of British Columbia

• Dr. Ediriweera Desapriya, Department of Emergency Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of British Columbia

• Anders Eugensson, MCE, Volvo Car Corporation

• Dr. Brent Hagel, Departments of Paediatrics and Community Health Sciences, University of Calgary

• Rod King, MBE, 20’s Plenty for Us

• Ed Miska, P. Eng, PTOE

• Dr. Jocelyn Pedder, RONA Kinetics and Associates, Ltd.

• Dr. Donald Redelmeier, Clinical Epidemiology Unit, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre

• Dr. Claes Tingvall, Swedish Transport Administration

• Dr. Fred Wegman, Faculty of Civil Engineering and Geosciences, Delft University of Technology

• Dr. Amanda Weinerman, Dr. Amanda Weinerman Optometric Corporation

To add to the above list are two people who undertook a blind peer review of the manuscript on behalf of WLU Press and provided feedback that helped me to reshape the book, add to it, and improve it in many ways. Many of those changes turned out to be nothing less than essential. Despite the peer review efforts and various help provided by others, any inaccuracies or errors in this book are entirely my responsibility and not those of anyone else.

This book is based on a large-scale review of research studies, data, books, government and university reports, government regulations, and news stories, but it is punctuated with content from interviews with a number of people. In addition to providing peer review, many of those listed above as well as the following people granted me their time to be interviewed: Keith Bradsher, Dr. Bruce Campana, Joan Claybrook, Dr. Ratnin Dewaraja, Clarence Ditlow, Dr. Danny Dorling, Dr. Louis Francescutti, Jeff Mapes, Steve Martin, Brian Murray, Ralph Nader, Cst. Bima Ribeiro, Gerry Shimko, Mike Thoeny, and Dr. Eric Young.

My wife, Kelly Arason, provided me with ongoing and priceless feedback throughout the writing process, including at the final proofing stage (she also built my author website: neil.arason.ca). Dr. Laurie Waye gave me valuable writing guidance and detailed feedback on earlier versions of both the book proposal and the manuscript. I also want to thank those who helped with the data: Jennifer Crain of the Public Health Agency of Canada, Michael Marth and Victor Johanson of Transport Canada, and Patricia Sidhom and Bronwen Waller of the Trauma Registries, Canadian Institute for Health Information. David Coburn helped me with photos, Dr. Ediriweera Desapriya alerted me to new research and encouraged me to write, Joelle Siemens and Bryan Melnyk provided me with specific research findings, Katy Chan and Dr. Bob Gifford gave me writing and publishing guidance, and at work Sam MacLeod, Steve Martin, and Stephanie Melvin lent my book project their personal support. To the many people who answered various questions I had along the way, and to my family, friends, and colleagues who asked me about my book and took an interest in it, thank you.

I am deeply indebted to my talented copy editor Kristen Chew and the managing editor at WLU Press, Rob Kohlmeier, as well as all of the people at the Press who helped turned this project from idea to book, including Blaire Comacchio, Clare Hitchens, Leslie Macredie, and Lisa Quinn. Additionally, I want to thank the indexer, Vicki Low. Finally, I do not know if the manuscript would be a book today if it were not for Ryan Chynces, the acquisitions editor who first took an interest in my book project.

Clearly, for this book to become a reality the largest price paid for it was by my family: my wife, Kelly, and our children, Liam and Charlotte. For them, this book meant thousands of hours during which I was unavailable and behind a keyboard and computer screen. At the same time, my love of my family and my worries over them are without doubt one of the things that put me on this journey: I want every child to be able to grow up and remain unharmed by the human-made product the motor vehicle. This is the purpose of my book.

Finally, for my mother, who always taught me to do the right thing: this book is dedicated to her: Evelyn Pantel (1929–2013).

To visit the author’s website, go to neil.arason.ca.

Author’s Note

Most of the data used in this book is taken from police reports and hospital and trauma databases. Each of these databases has its limitations, and for the most part each under-represents the actual numbers of people killed and injured in motor vehicle crashes in Canada. In addition, police-reported data, when used to capture the contributing factors of crashes, can be understated by as much as 20 to 25 percent due to missing data elements and unknown coded variables. Although the author has made every effort to obtain the most up-to-date data possible, most of the police-reported data covers only the years up to 2008, despite that much of it was received in 2013. Throughout this book, then, wherever statements indicate the number of people killed or injured in some recent time period (e.g., in the last ten years), the specified period typically corresponds to a period ending in 2008. In almost all cases, the corresponding endnote provides the exact years as well as the source of the data.

The terminology used in the book is drawn from diverse sources, including research studies, books, government and university reports, and interviews with experts from around the world, and it is intended to illustrate key road safety concepts using everyday language for laypersons as well as road safety practitioners. As such, some terminology may differ from that found in technical guidelines, manuals, and other sources used by practitioners in Canada. This book is not designed to provide technical guidance but rather to show, overall, how Canada could eliminate deaths and serious injuries from its roads while revealing the nature and scope of many of the changes needed.

The word pedestrian should be interpreted to mean any person outside of a motor vehicle excluding a pedal cyclist. A pedestrian, therefore, includes a person who is walking, running, playing, sitting, or standing as well as a skateboarder, rollerblader, et cetera, and any person on or near a road, path, or sidewalk. The words car and automobile should be interpreted in context, as sometimes these words imply any type of motorized vehicle, whether automobile, truck, SUV, or bus. At other times, the word car may be used specifically to denote an automobile as distinct from a truck, SUV, and bus.

Lastly, the views expressed in this work are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of other persons, agencies, or organizations, including those with which the author may be affiliated.


In 1913, the automobile began to be mass-produced on a moving conveyor by Henry Ford. Starting then, cars came off the assembly line and were sold in large numbers. With even more efficient assembly line production taking place over time, cars would be mass-produced at ever greater rates: by the 1920s, Ford was producing a Model T about every twenty-four seconds. But only simple roads continued to be built for them. And that was that.

Little effort was made to determine if the amount of responsibility handed to the drivers of these machines was actually within the limits of the fallible human condition. We rarely worried about a poorly designed road because, when things would go wrong, they would usually be viewed as the driver’s fault anyway. The car would end up as a grand experiment involving the world with little in the way of a backup plan for the millions of failures to follow.

From the time the first automotive traffic death occurred at the end of the nineteenth century, even before the age of mass production, we would allow automobiles, in mounting numbers, to run over our fellow human beings, disfigure them, inflict pain on them, and kill them in acts of bloody violence. We would give implicit permission for this to re-occur on a daily basis for over a century to come. Today, thirty-three hundred people die every day on the world’s roads.¹

This progression would be accompanied by a continuous pattern of blaming human behaviour for this violence. Even with more data and a growing understanding of how people actually behave in the real world, we would keep designing systems that relied upon perfect driving—by every driver at every moment in time.

We created one of the biggest human-made and systematic methods for physically assaulting people in Canada and across the globe, and we needed systems to respond to this. So we created new laws, formed new insurance bureaucracies, and saw the rise of specialty lawyers and the near take-over of the justice courts for traffic matters.

To help us cope emotionally, we took the view that these physical assaults were acts of nature, and simply beyond our control. Such thinking continues to this day. On an October day in 2012, a family of four from Calgary was vacationing when, on a highway, a foot-sized rock shot out from a flatbed truck and came through the passenger-side windshield of the family car. The rock killed a young mother of two, Janice Cairns. The rock had likely become lodged between the truck’s wheels and no inspection caught it before it was carried onto the public highway, no sensors detected its perilous hiding place, and no guard or fender prevented it from becoming dislodged like a missile. Despite an array of possible measures to avert such a disaster, the police corporal on the crash scene simply said, It’s an act of God.²

But how can the by-products of human-made machines and human-managed systems end up construed as acts of God beyond our control? In our prevailing world view, we have thrown up our hands to let things simply take their own course. Perhaps we should not be surprised then to find that, today, the World Health Organization has estimated that 1.2 million people are killed worldwide, and up to fifty million injured, from motor vehicle crashes each year.³

The annual growth of the automobile continues to rise rapidly around the world. In the book Two Billion Cars, Sperling and Gordon estimate that there are currently over 1.5 billion motor vehicles in the world, and that this number will surpass two billion by 2020.⁴ This growth will especially occur in countries moving toward a car-dominated culture, including China and India but also much of south and east Asia, Africa, eastern Europe, Russia, and South America. Across much of the planet, the number of deaths and injuries caused by the automobile will simply rise.

Today, China is the world’s largest car market, which is not surprising given the dramatic expansion of its middle class. In many South American countries, the expected death toll from the automobile is still rising each year, and may not peak until 2020 or later. In fact, it is estimated that the number of people killed and injured on the world’s roads will rise by more than 60 percent between 2000 and 2020.

In Canada, since 1950, over 235,000 people have been killed in motor vehicle crashes.⁶ In the last ten years, in this country, the number of people killed from all types of assaults combined with those killed by war and acts of terrorism made up, by comparison, the equivalent of just 15 percent of the total number of people killed in land-based transport accidents.⁷ In just ten years, from 1999 to 2008, over 186,000 people were hospitalized due to serious injuries from traffic accidents in this country.⁸ While Canada has made progress in protecting vehicle occupants, this progress has not been as steep as the best performing countries. Also, we are no longer making significant progress in protecting vulnerable road users, like pedestrians and cyclists. In the last decade in Canada, there was no progress in reducing fatalities and major injuries for pedestrians and cyclists struck down by cars, trucks, and buses.⁹

Young people are disproportionately affected by car crashes, both in terms of high numbers of injuries and human lives cut short. When young people die prematurely from accidents and other causes, the health sector measures such impacts by calculating years of potential life lost, which is a vital public health measure. Motor vehicle crashes in Canada are the overall leading cause of death for young people aged fifteen to twenty-four,¹⁰ and remain a major cause of years of potential life lost for those aged one to forty-four, yet are simply not given a proportional amount of public policy priority. In the twenty-five-year period ending in 2008, just under twenty-eight thousand children and young people up to the age of twenty-four lost their lives in automobile crashes in Canada.¹¹

The current situation is a system failure. Because safety has not been the starting point for the design of the system, what we now have is an untreated public health problem. In many other areas of public policy, we simply do not tolerate such consistent levels of unmanaged human harm.

Like other public health problems, road crashes produce direct victims and then many more indirect victims after that: the victims’ children, parents, siblings, grandparents, families, and friends—none of whom are counted in any database in the country. Many times the driver of a vehicle involved in a crash suffers from endless guilt, depression, and mental anguish. These individuals are not counted anywhere either. We are inundated with daily numbers on a constant basis in North America, but never numbers about the indirect victims.

Even though we now have the ability to eradicate the colossal levels of human carnage the automobile has thrown at us, we have not kept on a path of meaningful change. While other countries, and even some car companies, are making sizable plans to eradicate this violence, we are not doing the same in Canada or on this continent. In North America, we have remained too slow to join the new international movement that is working toward the outright elimination of motorized violence.

In the political debates of our federal parliament, there is little time given to discussions about road safety as a categorical issue. According to Louie Francescutti, an emergency-room physician in Edmonton who works tirelessly to improve road safety, There is little or no talk of the road safety problem in federal and provincial elections in our country, but only silence.¹²

Perhaps it is because road crashes are nothing new but a problem we have been dealing with for over a century now, or that road crash victims get killed or injured only one or a few at a time, or that we still carry the erroneous and outdated view that road crashes are simply accidents and there is little we can do about them. Perhaps it is that the human trauma that originates in the road system does not originate in one major and single unpredictable event, but manifests instead as a steady form of common violence; or that the things that impact us each and every day—the daily news, Internet, television streams—cover the problem only one snippet at a time, framing the problem as episodic and unconnected, and ignoring the potential for categorical change. Consequently, we do not, it seems, perceive the road safety problem as one that can be fundamentally altered and reframed.

The motor vehicle consumer product, its drivers, and the roads it is driven on exist largely beneath a social and political construct that has long been allowed to stay unrestricted. Unlike public transportation modes such as rail, ship, and air, motor vehicle transport is free from much law, free from rudimentary principles of management by design, and free from clearly assigned accountabilities. As a result, the automobile has been free to cause much harm. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms includes the principle that everyone has the right to personal security, but as long as thousands of Canadians are killed or seriously injured each year on our roads, Canadians do not appear, in fact, to have that right at all; we do not have freedom from injury and death, and are poorly insulated from the strain of its constant threat.

The International Situation

New thinking is taking place across international organizations like the United Nations and the World Health Organization (WHO), which began to take notice of the international road safety problem in a significant way in 2004 as worldwide road injury and death numbers continued to climb. In that year, for the first time in the history of the World Health Organization, World Health Day was focused on the theme of road safety, and the first-ever major global report on road safety was released.¹³

According to the report, road traffic injuries remain among the three leading causes of death for people between five and forty-four years of age, and the resulting injuries cost governments significant amounts of money. Road crashes are predicted to become the fifth leading global cause of death by 2030 unless immediate action is taken. In some regions of the globe, road deaths are already the leading cause of death for the most economically productive age group, those between fifteen and forty-four years of age, and the second most important cause of death for the five- to fourteen-year-old age group.¹⁴

The United Nations and WHO have since passed numerous resolutions on road safety, and have said that the worldwide toll from road crashes represents a formidable and tragic burden on society and a neglected public health issue. These decrees culminated when international leaders met in Russia and put together the Moscow Declaration.¹⁵ The declaration was endorsed the following year, 2010, by the sixty-fourth Session of the United Nations General Assembly, which also proclaimed the period 2011–2020 as the Decade of Action for Road Safety.¹⁶

The Safe System

What would all this new attention to road safety mean when accidents are just accidents and there is little we can do about them, anyway? The new international movement would provide an answer to this by pushing for the safe system approach.

The first time I heard the term safe system, my mind went to an imaginary world where all roads are built with Styrofoam on both sides and no one ever gets hurt. It sounded like something that would not just be expensive but unrealistic as well. It took me years to form a better understanding of the many interrelationships between the different dimensions of the travel system and the realistic ways that safety can actually be built into it. We do, in fact, have soft roadsides; made not of Styrofoam, perhaps, but of materials that engineers have designed to bend and break so that crash forces are absorbed by the objects on the sides of roads instead of dispersed against fragile people.

Other types of road design including the reconfiguration of traffic signals can separate pedestrians and cyclists from traffic temporally. Still other proven technologies are available to help drivers follow everyday rules of the road. Cars can be built with crumple zones, seat belts, and a multitude of airbags that soften impact blows and protect people. Vehicle speeds can be managed so that these safety systems have a good chance of doing their jobs, and crashes do not result in serious injury or death. Modern technology-based sensors can even detect and prevent a crash before it even happens.

Through these types of measures and countless others, massive and immediate changes are possible. But this has to be done under a planned approach that involves the automobile, road design, the driver, and the need for speed reduction. Using these four dimensions to build transport systems that accommodate human error is central to the safe system approach.¹⁷ In this type of system, improvements in one area are magnified by improvements in others and the overall benefits exceed the sum of its parts.

We could even learn from fish. Watching myriad species of fish swim closely together near a coral reef one day while on vacation, it occurred to me that nature sometimes deploys its own safe system. The fish I watched did not bump into and kill one another by accident. This is largely because the fish are relatively soft, and move slowly enough that when they bump into each other they do not get hurt. We could actually design a road travel system that works in much the same way as fish.

The new way forward is no longer about what causes accidents, but what causes safety. How to do this is simple: we have to make it so that driving errors are difficult to make and do not result in serious injury or death. Such a new world view means making safety a public health goal, embracing systems thinking, and incorporating a richer understanding of the interdependence that exists between the various parts of the traffic system into the design of all things. Equally important is the accompanying idea and philosophy that only an unethical system would allow a simple driving error to result in the physical assault of a person.

Human error can take the form of accidents, but injuries and deaths cannot. The word accident often infers an event that we are helpless to do anything about and suggests a degree of randomness and lack of control. Driving errors and accidents are things that will continue to happen but the system, as a whole, must be designed so that death and serious injury does not result from these errors. The traffic system outcome of death or serious injury is no accident.

Without question, human driving errors are a fiery topic. Old-school traffic safety thinking dictates that around 80 percent of crashes are caused by human behaviours. For about one hundred years now, this entrenched social construct has largely succeeded in framing our thinking through an almost endless repetition of this statistic. The problem with this number is that it is slyly misleading, since it suggests 80 percent of the solutions must also be framed around a need to correct human behaviours. Changing human behaviours is very difficult. In reality, most of the progress we have made over the past four decades, in reducing injuries and deaths from automobile crashes, has not come from programs that succeeded in changing driver behaviours. Some of it has, but a great deal more of it has not. The majority of injury reduction progress has come from the way we design cars and roads: changes that work automatically by design, kilometre after endless kilometre.

Unfortunately, road safety measures are too often studied and evaluated in isolation from one another. But what happens when many different types of safety measures, across disciplines, are implemented together? To what extent can we better protect pedestrians when we do things like reduce vehicle speeds, for example, and install safer crosswalks and regulate motor vehicles so that they are made with softer frontal structures that reduce deceleration on the head and body of a pedestrian? Rarely if ever are the benefits of such measures evaluated together. But, if we start to, we will uncover the most dramatic safety improvements imaginable. After that, we find that most of the progress made has been derived from measures that work automatically by design, and that have less dependence on imperfect humans.

When safety works automatically and progress results from it, our thinking can start to change. The idea that traffic injuries can be vastly reduced through management and regulatory actions is now well accepted throughout much of the world, and these new views have been actively embraced in regions like the European Union, Japan, and Australia. These areas of the world have led much of the way and we can learn a great deal from them.

Only Zero Is Good Enough

The Netherlands is one such country that has led the way. Back in 1992, it launched safe system thinking with the idea that much good could be accomplished by thinking about road safety in new and very different ways.¹⁸,¹⁹ Shortly thereafter, in 1997, Sweden formally adopted its Vision Zero traffic safety project, and enshrined in its laws its intention to work toward a road system that would not allow anyone to be killed.²⁰,²¹ Sweden’s philosophy can be expressed in one simple idea: In every situation a person might fail, the road system should not.²²

According to Claes Tingvall, who founded Sweden’s Vision Zero project, when people are hurt or killed on the roads it is up to road safety professionals to figure out how it happened, and to then design things so that it will not happen again.²³ This type of thinking reminds us, perhaps, that even flying rocks shot out from semi-trucks have solutions that are waiting to be put in place.

The European Commission has now adopted the goal of moving close to zero fatalities in road transport by 2050.²⁴ A number of US states have been early adopters of zero vision for road safety, including Utah, Washington, Idaho, and Minnesota.²⁵ Cities like Seattle have set the elimination of serious injuries and fatalities on their urban roads by 2030 as their goal.²⁶ Chicago has also joined the movement and set 2022 as its goal.²⁷

Australia is another leader on this front and its road safety strategy, released in 2011, is grounded in safe system principles and framed by the guiding vision that no person should be killed or seriously injured on Australia’s roads.²⁸ The government asserts that death and serious injury should not be accepted as an inevitable cost of road travel. As a step toward achieving this long-term vision, the strategy presents a plan to reduce the annual numbers of both deaths and serious injuries on Australian roads by at least 30 percent in ten years.

Not only do nations have a role to play in protecting people from blunt force trauma; so do automobile manufacturers. One automobile company working to eliminate fatalities and serious injuries caused by its cars is the Volvo Car Corporation.²⁹ Volvo even goes the extra step of tracking serious injuries using an international abbreviated injury scale to help define a serious injury.

Road safety performance contains huge variances throughout the world, with immensely better results in those countries that give it priority and embrace the most proven ways of tackling the problem. In fact, road safety performance varies nine-fold across countries affiliated with the International Transport Forum.³⁰

How Canada Compares

Today, Canada’s road crash fatality rate per 100,000 persons in the population is over double that of the world’s best performers.³¹ Based on this measure and the most recent international road safety annual report (for 2011), nineteen countries performed better than Canada.³² Even when a measure is used that could positively bias large countries like Canada, such as deaths per billion kilometres travelled, Canada is still not a top performer. And since many of the best performing jurisdictions were not ranked as such in previous decades, this only provides further evidence that injury and death numbers are not accidents but system failures.

It is important to measure not only deaths, but also the number of people injured and the severity of each of those injuries caused by motor vehicles. According to the National Trauma Registry, an average of almost nineteen thousand people are seriously injured and hospitalized from road crashes in Canada each year.³³ At this time, it is difficult to compare injuries across jurisdictions because not every country measures and records injuries in the same way. Until improvements are made around the world, the best course of action is to compare fatality rates while never losing sight of the injury numbers. And, of course, we must measure the actual things that will take us to new levels of safety—the many safety measures that this book will explore.

According to the most recent international report on road safety performance, the United Kingdom, one of the best overall performing countries, had a motor vehicle fatality rate of 3.1 persons per 100,000 persons; Canada’s was 6.5.³⁴ If Canada had a rate in line with the UK, we would have saved 1,059 lives that year (2011) alone. Such differences between countries are not explained by simple geography or population density or other externalities. Just take the case of the Netherlands, which had a road crash fatality rate of 24.6 persons per 100,000 persons in 1970, compared to just 4.0 in 2011. The Dutch did not alter their physical location on the globe to make this progress; instead, they made progress by making road safety a national priority. We can consider, as well, that the top-performing road safety countries will soon have just one fatality per 100,000 persons, and this is quite likely to happen as early as 2020.³⁵

Mission Possible

To systematically reduce and then eliminate the number of car-related injuries and deaths, we can start to think of road crashes not as accidents beyond our control but as human-made problems with human-made solutions. Today, the collective body of knowledge is vast compared to what it once was. Well over one hundred years of experience with automobile transport tells us that humans are fallible and they make errors for countless numbers of reasons. To view the need to change the way people behave as the total solution, and to blame the victims themselves for their own deaths, is to uphold an outlook whose origins are from a different time.

Today, everyone is a road user, and our cities and highways are filled with all kinds of different people with diverse values, ages, maturity levels, road experience, mental states, levels of alertness, levels of self-control and concern for others, and degrees of visual, mental, and physical-motor functioning. While we can make some important progress through changes in behaviours, we will never fully address the problems of car-related injury and death by focusing exclusively on endlessly imperfect human beings. We cannot forgo the benefits of changes that get people to drive better, especially given that many of the measures that accomplish this goal can produce almost immediate gains. If we want to be a top road safety performer in the world, however, we cannot put everything just in the behavioural basket. We have an understanding of how people actually behave; now we can start to design solutions based on how the world really works.

Road safety is a field that has matured at an extraordinary rate, with unimaginable potential for making crashless vehicles, improved ways to reduce crash forces, better roads, new ideas, more ethical cities, and new kinds of transport hierarchies that give priority to the most vulnerable road users.

A Double Tragedy

But none of this will matter until road safety becomes a national priority in Canada. In the meantime, the first tragedy associated with our current situation is that there is a long list of proven measures that reduce transport-related deaths, injuries, and costs to society, but that have either not been implemented or are grossly under-used. The second tragedy is that many of these interventions have little or no cost associated with them. In fact, some of these measures generate savings and are compatible with other public, environmental, and human health goals. Reducing vehicle speeds, for example, reduces fuel consumption, which in turn diminishes greenhouse gas emissions and lowers the amount of particulates that automobiles produce and that end up in the air we breathe.

Even modest expenditures to reduce the number of accidents each year would generate a huge return on investment. Road crashes, according to a report by Transport Canada, are estimated to cost Canada approximately $63 billion each year.³⁶ Many countries now estimate that road crashes cost their economies around 2 to 3 percent of their gross domestic product. It is not safety that is expensive; rather, it is the current system that is unaffordable.

Just as we learned from the global financial crisis beginning in 2008 that regulation is not a dirty word, and that sound banking regulation created sizable benefits to Canada’s economy, the road system can be amply regulated as well. Regulation has always been a fixture of modern societies, and will always have a rightful place. In the context of road safety, sound regulation is largely about our basic right to personal physical security and our uncomplicated desire to want to protect one another and our children.

Changing How We Think

Change can happen if we begin to think differently about the problem of road safety, since governments are made up of the people and respond to the will of the people. One of the aims of this book is to provide accessible information and to help create a new framework that supports a liberating type of transformation—one that is at the centre of our safety, security, and well-being.

It is now possible to virtually eliminate one of this country’s greatest causes of human trauma, pain, and suffering as early as 2035. There are many reasons why this can happen, but only one reason is the root from which the others can grow: it involves the way we think.

On the pages ahead, we will explore our thinking, around road safety, and the ways it can be transformed. This journey will involve three major parts: humans, roads, and motor vehicles. The right speed for each type of road is a theme that threads through all three parts. In order to fully appreciate the problem of road unsafety, Chapters 1 and 2 will start with an assessment of the problems associated with driving and the use of our roads. These chapters explore the countless reasons why drivers make errors and explore various measures that can help make ethical safety gains. At the same time, the intractable nature of the problem of human driving errors sets the foundation for the ultimate solutions that come later in this book. The presentation of these more enduring solutions to the road unsafety problem begins in Chapters 3 and 4, with an investigation of the way we design our cities and roadways, and of the many safety measures currently available that work automatically by design and are less dependent upon making humans behave differently. Chapters 5, 6, and 7 culminate with the most definitive safety solutions available: those that relate to the motor vehicle. The consumer product itself—the car, truck, and bus—can now be designed to solve the road safety problem almost completely, but an appreciation for this only comes about from the reader’s complete journey through this book. Chapter 8, the concluding chapter, reveals a plan to transition the country to a point where the physical security of every person on our roads is simply an everyday reality.


I Know Your Type

While many of the ultimate solutions to the road safety problem come later in this book, this chapter and the one that follows are essential reading because they explore the role of the driver—the human part of the road travel system. This is important for two reasons: the first is that there are many available measures that can be deployed to correct and decrease the likelihood of driver error and the human injury that results from it. From an ethical point of view, we cannot ignore the potential gains that can be achieved in this area of human behaviour. The second reason for beginning here is that we need to understand fully that we will never have a completely safe road system if we focus our attention on drivers alone. In order to have a greater appreciation for the solutions that come later in this book, which relate to roads and vehicles, we first need to understand the many problems related to drivers—some of which are not solvable.

To even begin to drive a motor vehicle safely and not hurt oneself or other people, drivers must have sustained and varied experience behind the wheel, possess a degree of maturity, have basic regard for other human beings, and have the vision, cognition, and human motor skills that safe driving demands.

It is impossible, however, for all people to consistently possess the qualities and skills that safe driving requires at all times. Not only that, but many drivers find it tempting to enjoy the thrill of fast driving afforded by cars that cut out sound, minimize vibration, seduce with sleek lines and powerful engines, and sometimes bequeath anonymity and privacy with tinted windows.

Hidden beneath the cage of almost every car, truck, and bus is a driver with some or many human shortcomings. This is why much of the road system itself is a failure—the ongoing human carnage is generated from an imperfect joining of each type of driver with every type of motorized machine over an unnatural expanse of time and distance.

Just who are the drivers behind the tinted windows and what are their trademarks? It turns out we can take all the drivers out in

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