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How Sweden Is Building Safer Roads

4 minute read

Sweden has seen a dramatic decrease in their road collisions, deaths and injuries, and this is in part due to the way they have changed their thinking about road design.

Instead of making roads easy and convenient to drive on, the focus has shifted to designing roads in a way that makes it difficult to drive dangerously on. To achieve this, they have been implementing more ‘traffic calming measures’.

These measures can include a variety of things and are most often broken up into two categories, vertical and horizontal.

Vertical calming measures include:

  • Speed signs
  • Signs warning about traffic conditions or hazards
  • Speed cameras

Horizontal calming measures are more to do with the design and shape of the road.

These include:

  • Speed bumps
  • Roundabouts
  • Choke points
  • Narrowing roads

Narrowing of roads can seem counterproductive, because the closer you are to the oncoming traffic, surely there’s more of a chance of a collision?

However, if you think of it this way, have you ever been on a nice wide road with no bends and the speed limit, no matter what it is, feels almost as though you’re crawling along? In situations like this it’s easy to speed without realising because it feels more comfortable.

Alternatively, have you ever been driving somewhere and despite the speed limit, you find yourself going slower? The bends in the road are just that bit sharper, or the roads are a tad too narrow, and as a result you’ve slowed below the speed limit without thinking about it.

That’s how narrowing roads works. It puts you in a position where you feel the need to go slower and pay more attention. This can be particularly helpful in high pedestrian areas because it doesn’t give the driver a chance to speed up.

Yes, there will always be one or two who don’t care if the road is exactly the width of their car, they’re going to go as fast as their engine will allow. But for the majority of us who don’t like fast moving objects approaching them, it will work.

These initiatives began to be implemented following the 1997 creation of Vision Zero which is a government program aimed at bringing the road toll down to zero. Other initiatives if the program include early childhood education about road safety and developing a comprehensive database to guide future projects.

Since the creation of Vision Zero, Sweden has seen a 68% decrease in their rate of road fatalities.

One of the main calming measures that Sweden has introduced is the 2 plus 1 roads.

They are a three-lane road where each direction has one consistent lane, while a middle lane sort of snakes and alternates every few kilometres, often separating the directions by a barrier. This provides safe zones for people to overtake and prevents traffic from being able to enter the oncoming lane. By doing this, drivers are forced to wait for safe zones (the middle lane when available to their direction) to overtake and therefore are no longer taking the risk of entering the oncoming traffic lane when wishing to overtake.

Sweden is not the only country to implement such measures, in Australia we have calming measures including speed bumps and hazard signs around. However, it can’t be denied that Sweden is outperforming us in their reduction of road fatalities. It seems that Sweden’s commitment to implementing such measures to make roads safer rather than comfortable is the key difference.

Sources: (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8)

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