Achieving Vision Zero while saving the planet

To address climate change, it is obvious that the way we travel and the amount of travel we do needs to change. While this change is occurring, we also need to work towards our vision zero goals in road safety – where no one is killed or seriously injured on our roads.  We need to consider transport changes in our planning for this safer transport future.  So, what are the likely transitions and how do we still achieve our goal of vision zero?

Safe System approach

Using a safe system approach, we need to consider the changes that will occur to each element of the system; (safer) vehicles, (safer) roads, roadside and speeds and (safer) road users over the next 30 years and beyond.  Some of the transport changes necessary to address climate change will lead to better safety outcomes, while others will potentially have the opposite effect.  

In response to climate change the vehicles, devices and travel modes we use will continue to change.  In urban areas there will be a likely increase in public transport use (and associated walking trips), biking, low emission and electric motorbikes, mopeds and e-bikes, micro-mobility, and walking.  These measures will help cut carbon emissions which contribute to climate change.  For rural and high speed roads it is highly likely that most trips will still occur by car, ideally by low or zero emission vehicles with a high safety (4 or 5) rating.

road to zero

Lowering speeds benefits vision zero and climate change

A safe system analysis of the New Zealand road network shows that over 80% of roads currently have a speed limit that is not safe and needs to be lowered, or where affordability and adjoining land-use allows, the road needs to be upgraded to operate safely at current speeds. On high-speed roads lowering operating speeds improves safety and which has the added benefit of reducing carbon emissions. 

In urban areas, slower speeds tend to result in vehicles moving more smoothly with fewer accelerations and decelerations which produces fewer particulate emissions. However, the greatest impact of lower vehicle speeds in our towns and cities is they make modes such as biking, micro-mobility, walking and riding a moped safer and hence more attractive.  Infrastructure changes can also support lower speeds and provide safer space for other transport modes.  So lower operating speeds are essential to getting the mode changes required to reduce transport emissions and address climate change.

A key safety issue occurs where cars and higher mass vehicles (SUVs, Utes and trucks) come in conflict with the increasing number of unprotected road users in urban areas.  While this can be mitigated by better infrastructure and safer speeds, the increase in larger mass vehicles creates a key safety concern for other road users in urban areas.  The higher mass vehicles can also be more polluting.  More on this in my next blog

Australasian Road Safety Conference

A key plenary topic at the upcoming Australian Road Safety Conference (28-30 September in Christchurch, NZ) is exploring the link between climate change and road safety and the transition that is necessary to achieve goals in both areas. Our team look forward to presenting and catching up with others at this conference, hope to see you there!