Twenty years after it launched the then revolutionary idea of zero road fatalities – Vision Zero – Sweden is taking its fight against road trauma to the next level: increasing bike travel to reduce road-related mortality.
The vision zero model, now being rolled out across Australia, has had much international success in reducing the human impact of road crashes.
But roads have wider health impacts beyond crashes: driving is a passive, sedentary activity, and like sitting on the couch for hours, is a major contributor to obesity, heart disease, diabetes and so on.
Reducing car crashes is a great thing, but it does nothing to address the huge disease burden that passive travel is causing.
The Swedes have concluded that roads, if used extensively for active travel, can have a major, positive health and safety effect.
They have just launched Moving Beyond Zero, which seeks to take the health benefits of active travel and combine them with the safety benefits of the Vision Zero approach.
This evolution in Vision Zero thinking is music to the ears of Bicycle Network, which has persistently argued that the primary benefit to society of getting more people on bikes is a much healthier community.
Veteran members will well remember our fight with the Australian Tax Office, which originally opposed our registration as a health charity as it could not see the connection between health and the physical activity benefits of bike riding.
Now, with the advances in Sweden, we see this thinking moving into the mainstream.
Moving Beyond Vision Zero is the brainchild of the Swedish Traffic Safety Council for Active and Sustainable Mobility
"Sweden needs a Vision Zero that saves, improves, and lengthens lives. Modern environmentally sound and healthy transport planning has to create a vision for a more active and healthier population,” the Council says.
"A new goal should lead to traffic that saves lives and improves quality of life in addition to reducing traffic fatalities and injuries by promoting active mobility in the form of cycling and walking.
"The socioeconomic models that dictate our infrastructure investments must begin to take into account illness prevention and increased life quality provided by active mobility.
The council lists the following benefits:
- The health benefits of cycling outweigh the safety risks by a factor of 20 to one
- Cyclists on average live two years longer than non-cyclists and take 15 per cent fewer days off work due to illness
- An adult who rides regularly will typically have a level of fitness equivalent to being ten years younger
- Countries with the highest levels of cycling and walking generally have the lowest obesity rates
- Bike riding has a positive effect on emotional health, improving levels of well-being, self confidence, and tolerance of stress while reducing fatigue, sleep disorders, and a range of medical symptoms
- People who commute by bike experience a mortality rate 28 per cent below the population average.