(Previously in Swedish on this webbsite 2015)

I sat this morning in my car in a slow-moving cue on my way to work and thought about how extremely many people who, one way or another, is traveling on our road networks every day. We go to and from work, the store, leisure activities and so on, and no matter how we measure these trips – in the number of kilometers we move, the number of trips we take or the number of minutes we spend out there, it will be impressively big numbers.

What fascinates me the most about this giant traffic system is how well it works! Sure, there are queues at rush hours, and we sometimes get upset about other people’s behavior in traffic and sometimes there are accidents, but on the whole, it works quite well. Especially considering the mix of vehicles and pedestrians that populate the traffic system and that many who is in the system don’t have a real training to be there.

It happens quite a few accidents on the main highway in Stockholm if you consider that over 10,000 vehicles travel there every day, or on the highway where cars at a relative speed of often over 200 kilometers per hour are met with a distance of just a few meters, or for that matter in the cities where the mix of cars and motorcycles is spiced up by pedestrians, cyclists, moped riders and buses.

In this gigantic system, less than 300 people today is dying in accidents in Sweden every year. This is about three deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, compared to Thailand, where more than 38 people per 100,000 inhabitants die in the traffic each year. As a cause of death in Sweden, deaths from road accidents represent a relatively small proportion, half a percent of all those who die in a year. In Sweden, these figures have also continuously fallen since the 1970s, despite an increased population and more motor vehicles. This is the opposite of much of the rest of the world. Of course is every death in accidents one to many and our goal must always be zero and we are a good way too achieve that.   

What I find interesting is that this huge system works so extremely well in Sweden. The fact that we drive better vehicles, created safer traffic environments and receiv better driver training is of course important reason why the system works better and the death rate drops. But it is also a long-term effort to create a culture around traffic that has benefited this development. We teach traffic knowledge in school and on television and we have a long-term zero vision (from 1997) against deaths in traffic. 

What can we learn from this? Can we use this model and the strategy behind it on other societal problems, such as domestic violence or to reduce the number of suicides? From the 1970s onwards, we have succeeded in reducing the number of road deaths from 1300 to 300 (despite more inhabitants and vehicle) in 45 years and managed to restructure a chaotic system into something that works pretty well. The experience gained from this should be usable.

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