Vision Zero and the Safe System Approach

The goal of Vision Zero, first implemented by Sweden in 1997, is to completely eliminate deaths and serious injuries from road transportation. Achieving this goal will require a Safe System Approach that considers the mental and physical capacities of humans and creates road transportation systems designed to effectively reduce the risk of injury and death caused by crashes.

Vision Zero Principles:

  1. Life and health can never be exchanged for other benefits in society,
  2. Serious injuries and fatalities are predictable and preventable,
  3. Road users are vulnerable but should not be killed or seriously injured as a result of a crash,
  4. Humans are prone to error but should not die or become seriously injured as a result,
  5. System-wide changes are the most effective.

More information on Vision Zero can be found in The Vision Zero Handbook: Theory, Technology and Management for a Zero Casualty Policy and Vision Zero and the Safe System Approach: A Primer for Canada (2023).

Safe System Approach:

The Safe System Approach recognizes the interdependence of the safe system components: Safe Roads, Safe Speeds, Safe Road Users and Safe Vehicles, and the actions that can be taken to achieve continuous improvements across these components. The goal of this approach is to prevent all collisions and to assure that if collisions do occur, road users will not be seriously injured. While road users must always try to interact safely, the Safe System Approach emphasizes that the transportation system must be designed to accommodate human vulnerability and error. Therefore, the Safe System approach places more responsibility on the system designers than on individual road users. The Safe System Approach is illustrated in the figure below (

Components of Safe System Approach

Safe System Approach
Graphic Credit: Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators adapted from the 2009 WHO report on the Global Status on Road Safety

Additional information on Vision Zero:

Additional information on the Safe System Approach in Canada can be found in the ITE Journal article Canada and the Safe Systems Approach to Road Safety.

Decade of Action for Road Safety:

The United Nations (UN) General Assembly passed a resolution in March 2010 to establish the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020. During this decade, the goal of the World Health Organization was to “stabilize and then reduce the forecasted level of road traffic fatalities around the world by increasing activities conducted at national, regional and global levels” by 2020 (,WHO-global_plan_final.pdf).

The principles guiding the Decade of Action are to:

  • Adopt a “Safe System Approach” to deal with traffic collisions,
  • Ensure ownership for activities at the national and local level,
  • Include governments, the private sector, and nongovernmental organizations in the development of improvements to road safety.

The Decade of Action has been successful in reducing fatalities and serious injuries mainly in high-income countries.

With road safety now included in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, (SDG) much more must be done to stop the carnage on the world’s roads that kills 1.35 million people every year. The United Kingdom-based Towards Zero Foundation’s 50BY30 campaign launched in early 2020, aims at reducing road deaths and serious injuries by 50 per cent by 2030. This same goal was adopted by the United Nations at a meeting in Sweden in 2020.

A new target and a new decade of action are intended to save 675,000 lives a year, accelerate progress in global road injury prevention, and work towards a world eventually free from road fatalities and serious injuries. More information can be found at:

Vision Zero and Safe System FAQs:

Where and when did Vision Zero for road safety originate?
Vision Zero was conceived in Sweden in 1994. In 1997, the Swedish Parliament passed a Road Traffic Safety Bill that legislated Vision Zero into law.
What is the purpose of setting a goal of Zero fatalities and serious injuries?
The goal of the Vision Zero approach is to promote the value of human life and health above all other values that might influence transportation policies.
Have any jurisdictions reached zero fatalities or serious injuries?
Several countries have used the Vision Zero approach to significantly improve road safety. In 2019, the City of Oslo, Norway achieved zero fatalities involving pedestrian, bicyclists, and children:
What is the difference between Vision Zero and the Safe System Approach?
Vision Zero sets the ultimate goal of zero fatalities and serious injuries on our roadways. The Safe System Approach provides a holistic and comprehensive framework for achieving this goal.