‘First do no harm’: why it’s time for Vision Zero NZ

Aug 25, 2016
‘First do no harm’: why it’s time for Vision Zero NZ

Bike Auckland

Sobering news: in August, New Zealand’s road fatality toll stands at 214 people killed on our roads so far this year, including 3 people who were just out riding their bikes, 15 pedestrians,10 children; 50 in Auckland alone… any way you slice the data, it’s still too many. And that’s not accounting for life-changing injury.

What is an acceptable fatality rate, in a country our size? Think of a number – and then watch this.


Vision Zero, an approach that began in Sweden and is being adopted around the world, flips the script. Instead of assuming a certain number of road deaths are inevitable, we could insist on none.

We could refuse to accept the ‘road toll’ as some sort of fixed tax – or indeed, ‘toll’ – in exchange for our transport system to function.

We could begin with the expectation that everyone who sets out on a journey, no matter how they travel, will come home alive.

We could consider it a gift to drivers that the streets they travel will not let them make irreversible mistakes.

Children at the Otaki Children’s Health Camp, playing dead in a street, to simulate 32 child deaths on New Zealand Roads, Evening Post, 1957. (Ref: EP/1957/3800-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand)

Vision Zero aims to change how governments, organisations, and private individuals approach road safety. One of its core messages is that there are no ‘accidents’: no road crash happens due to random chance alone. Our transport system can and should be designed to be safe even – or especially – when people make mistakes.

Infographic via the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Change is possible. And importantly for the sceptics, it’s possible without abandoning the car and the truck as forms of transport – as long as we shift our thinking:

Safety has to come before convenience, and design and data have to come before reflexively blaming crashes on reckless road users.

Useful data from the 2014 NZ Cycling Safety Panel report. Injuries (and deaths) of pedestrians and people on bikes rise steeply as vehicle speeds rise from 30kmh.

As one of the fundamental principles of Vision Zero puts it: ‘Life and health can never be exchanged for other benefits within the society.’ Safety should be paramount, not one of many inputs to be ‘balanced’ against others. Human life and health should be the bottom line, and street design and safer speeds and other policies should be directed to that end.

It works: Sweden has halved the number of road deaths since introducing Vision Zero:

“We simply do not accept any deaths or injuries on our roads,” says Hans Berg of the national transport agency. Swedes believe – and are now proving – that they can have mobility and safety at the same time.

We think New Zealand can too. That’s why Bike Auckland is joining the call to make Vision Zero the vision for Auckland – and for New Zealand as a whole.

On this, we’re glad to stand alongside Brake, the road safety charity; Cycling Action Network; NZ School Speeds; Waitemata Local Board Deputy Chair Pippa Coom, and Walk Auckland; Transportblog, and other supporters of Vision Zero for New Zealand.

Join the cause

Vision Zero Auckland
Vision Zero for NZ (Facebook group)
NZ School Speeds (Facebook page)

Further reading

The official Vision Zero Initiative website
A 2014 interview with Sweden’s traffic safety strategist
Vision Zero for Auckland‘, Pippa Coom, 15 June 2015
Time for Vision Zero‘, Transportblog, 16 October 2015
The Accident is Not the Major Problem’, Transportblog, 31 May 2016
Call for Vision Zero to be adopted for NZ to bring down road toll‘, Pippa Coom, 16 July 2016
Vision Zero press release from Brake, the road safety charity

For local confirmation that we can and must design safer streets, especially for people on foot and on bikes, look no further than this clip of St Luke’s Rd that’s been lighting up the internet…

Or consider this recent story: ‘Auckland hit and run breaks child’s leg and almost kills four.’

Vision Zero is about protecting everyone, motorists included. See this recent heartbreaking story from Portland, Oregon, on a resurgence of support for Vision Zero principles: ‘I’m a driver. I need this.’

And this news story from just yesterday: ‘Four-vehicle crash outside Bucklands Beach Intermediate in Auckland.‘ By good fortune, in this case the driver escaped with minor injuries and nobody else was hurt or killed. But it needs to be about more than just good fortune. Vision Zero.

Image from NZ Herald story, sourced by the Herald via Facebook.

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Bike Auckland is the non-profit organisation working to improve things for people on bikes. We’re a people-powered movement for a better city. We speak up for you – and the more of us there are, the stronger our voice!

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