Statistics show that mobility and transportation are indispensable components of economic development. Yet, despite their benefits, mobility and transportation also have downsides, including congestion, accidents, and fatalities. As Saudi Arabia aims to use its strategic location to attract firms by beginning construction on financial districts and industrial cities, it is imperative to address the transportation system and Saudi Arabia’s high rate of traffic deaths. Without proper planning designed to reduce road fatalities, the rate of these tragedies will continue to increase.
The road fatality rate in Saudi Arabia is one of the highest worldwide. 17 Saudis die daily as a result of car accidents, costing the Kingdom between 85 and 90 billion riyals annually. Yet, little effort has been devoted to countering this problem. Al-Jazirah newspaper, in a celebratory article, cited the horrific statistics on road fatalities, and then praised the new car drifting law as a solution. However, legislating against drifting alone will not resolve this troubling issue.
A holistic initiative should be planned and implemented, and there are other options that can be applied in Saudi Arabia. A particularly interesting one is “Vision Zero”. Vision Zero is an initiative first implemented by the Swedish government with the aim of reducing traffic deaths to zero. The philosophy behind Vision Zero acknowledges that accidents will continue to occur, but Vision Zero aims to ultimately have zero accidents occurring on the road that result in a death or permanent injury. The initiative is based on the belief that any loss of life is unacceptable.
Vision Zero can be applied in any country, and has been successfully implemented already in countries including Canada, the Netherlands, Australia and the United Kingdom. In addition, many major American cities have also adopted the program, including San Francisco, Boston, and New York. In addition, Vision Zero has even been adopted by cities where most of the population uses cars as a means of transportation, such as Los Angeles.
Sweden first implemented Vision Zero in 1998. By 2007, the rate of Sweden’s traffic-related fatalities had dropped by 30 percent, and the combined serious injuries and fatalities rate had dropped by 50 percent. Vision Zero has been successful in Sweden and has reduced the number of fatalities and serious injuries that occur, despite Sweden’s driving population increasing. Some states in the United States also implemented the Vision Zero initiative, and their traffic-related have fallen. Utah witnessed a reduction of 48 percent, Minnesota of 43 percent and Washington of 40 percent.
Vision Zero consists of four elements; ethics, responsibility, a safety philosophy and the creation of mechanisms for change. The main concept behind the vision is that the responsibility of preventing accidents does not lie only with drivers, but instead is shared between drivers, traffic engineers and road designers. The program is designed to take into consideration that drivers are only human and will inevitably make mistakes. Thus, while reducing the prevalence of drifting will curtail reckless behavior, more comprehensive programs such as Vision Zero should also be implemented to reduce the risk of traffic-related deaths.
Since the main concepts of Vision Zero are applicable in any country, each Saudi city’s traffic department should implement an approach similar to Vision Zero to tackle this issue, while taking into consideration that Saudi Arabia’s provinces have varying transportation challenges and opportunities. Beginning at that level, these plans should be reviewed in regional council meetings, as regional councils play a significant role in linking the various local ministerial branches and other departments that are under the Ministry of Interior, such as the traffic department.
Implementing Vision Zero can be achieved by first asking some basic questions to design a policy that is implementable in Saudi cities. In Sweden, before implementing Vision Zero, the Swedish Traffic Committee formulated some questions. They were interested in knowing which problems had to be solved, developing long-term goals, and envisioning how to achieve these goals to create a safe transport system. The answers to these questions built the foundation of Vision Zero. If each Saudi city or region were to develop its own plan from the same comprehensive model, we could start taking concrete action to reduce traffic fatalities in Saudi Arabia, beyond simply trying to legislate against the irresponsibility of individuals.