Vision Zero: Preventing traffic fatalities

I grew up in a big family in a house filled with the energy of a bunch of rambunctious kids. I am not sure how long it was before my parents figured out that unbreakable plastic dinner plates were a good idea, but except for holidays, that’s what we used.

This past weekend when I was using my circular saw, I used it exactly as my dad had taught me for safe use – safety goggles, placement of the wood to be cut, foot position, power cord position, and more. In retrospect, I marvel at how young I was when he first let me use the tool. There were a lot of instructions, and he was very serious about them. I had to demonstrate my technique a bunch of times with the saw unplugged before he let me use it. All that teaching was kind of dull. But when he plugged the saw in and helped me make that first cut, it was possibly as fun as the first time I got to drive a car! (The chainsaw was a few years later, but boy, that one was fun too.)

My parents could have taken a different approach. They could have decided that they wanted to use china plates. If one of us kids broke one, maybe we would only be given bread and water – don’t really need a plate for that. Or my dad could have been less directive about using power tools. He could have considered injuries from power tools somewhat inevitable. Besides, there were a bunch of us kids, and if one had a serious accident, the others would probably learn from seeing that mistake.

So, why this trip down memory lane? Hold on… I’m getting there!

Regarding the dishes, my parents apparently figured out that we were incapable of handling them appropriately, probably breaking an entire stack of them at a time roughhousing while setting the table or emptying the dishwasher. So, they engineered a solution – unbreakable plastic plates, and throw in the plastic drinking cups while you’re at it.

I have all my fingers and toes today even after a good amount of power tool usage over the years. That is a direct result of the training my dad gave me, and then the enforcement of the rules he trained me to follow. If I used any of the power tools in an unsafe way, he immediately enforced the safety rules and stopped me. Then we went back through the training… again.

Now here’s why I bring all this up… What’s another dangerous power tool that just about everyone learns to use in our teenage years? A tool many of us use almost every single day? The automobile. Each day, there are 3,700 deaths around the world from preventable traffic crashes. That is 1.3 million people each year. It is the leading cause of death for people 5 to 29 years of age.

Just this past February, two students were struck by a car while crossing Foothill Road to get to Carpinteria High School. Then later that month, a student was hit by a car while riding his bike to Carpinteria Middle School. Thankfully, none of these incidents resulted in deaths, but they are still unacceptable.

There is a strategy called “Vision Zero” being adopted around the world based on the principle that all severe or fatal transportation-related injuries are unacceptable and are preventable by prioritizing safety above all other factors on our roads. It was first implemented in Sweden in the 1990s, and its success across Europe inspired adoption in major US cities, including Santa Barbara where it was adopted in 2018.

Some core concepts of Vision Zero are:

Traffic deaths are not inevitable, but are preventable.

Human behavior is not perfect, so the system must integrate human failings.

Preventing fatal and severe crashes is more important than preventing all collisions.

The specific actions inspired by these principles fall in these areas:

Engineering: Anticipate and reduce the effects of human error – plastic plates don’t break as easily as china; separate and protected bike paths reduce car-bike conflicts.

Enforcement: Safety laws must be followed – no sawing without goggles, stop signs mean every car and bicycle must stop every time, turn signals are not optional, sidewalks are not for bikes.

Education: We all need to know how use our transportation tool safely, whether it is a car, motorcycle, bicycle or our own two feet.

If we as individuals, taxpayers and voters base our actions on the principles of Vision Zero, and demand that our government agencies do so too, then we can achieve the vision of zero severe or fatal transportation-related injuries to us, our family members, our students, or anyone in our community.