Road safety and Vision Zero

By Dr. Jong Kim MD MSc FRCPC Medical Health Officer | Northeast HSDA Northern Health
February 6, 2019 - 9:59am

Driving around any Northern BC community, motorists inevitably encounter School Zone signs. As you slow down, you may have wondered, “How much difference does it make to drive at 30 km/h, rather than 50 km/h?”

A big difference, actually. A vehicle travelling 50 km/h has more than double the kinetic energy of one going 30 km/h. And if a pedestrian were to be hit by a car, they have a 10 per cent risk of dying if hit at 30 km/h; but an 80 per cent risk of dying when the speed is just twenty kilometres per hour faster.

This difference matters - motor vehicle collisions are a major contributor to rates of mortality and disability in our communities. In BC every day, 175 crashes, one fatality and 10 hospitalizations take place. Overall cost of transportation-related injuries is $8.5 billion in B.C.

Transportation-related injuries also affect everyone - often suddenly and unexpectedly - as one of the leading causes of unintentional injury or death across all ages, including young people. But with a common commitment from all road users, they are decisively preventable. 

“Research shows that pedestrians have a 10 per cent risk of dying when hit at 30 km/h, but an 80 per cent risk of dying when hit at 50 km/h.” - Where the Rubber Meets the Road 

Driving the long stretches of highways in the north, I am keenly aware of my responsibility to drive safely, and maintain my vehicle to a safety standard. Beyond my own responsibility, I often think of the work that went into creating this safe path for me to travel on. The workforce that had to clear the trees, the crews that paved the roads, and the planning that had to go into carving roads around mountains, and over rivers. I am grateful for the snow plow drivers that keep our roads clear and safe to drive on, and for the RCMP that make sure the laws designed to keep us safe are being followed. While significant work has been, and continues to be done to keep me safe on the road, there is a shared responsibility for us all to contribute to a safe road system which will prevent serious injuries and fatalities.

You may have heard of Vision Zero. This is the commitment to reducing serious injuries and fatalities on our roadways to zero. This is to acknowledge that zero is the only number we should accept, and we will pursue what’s possible through everyone working together with a shared goal.

Vision Zero focuses on preventing the crashes that result in the most serious consequences -- not on every crash on our roads. The key components of a safe road system are safe speeds, safe roads, safe vehicles, and safe road users. Achieving Vision Zero partners view the transportation system as a safety network, where efforts to reduce the risk for each component combine together towards zero fatalities.

Driving at safe speeds is a major component of keeping people safe. Lower speed limits, combined with improved enforcements such as the automatic enforcement system and point-to-point speed cameras, can make a significant difference.

Safe roads can also be supported through design. Injuries are reduced when roads are built to separate people in time and space. Barriers between lanes on a highway are a great example of measures to prevent head on collisions that could have serious consequences.

Safer vehicles with seat belts and airbags have saved many lives, and more technologies have been introduced in the recent years. Road users can also contribute to safety on the roads by reducing distracted driving or impaired driving – supported by clear regulations, enforcement, and education.

Some road users are more vulnerable, including pedestrians, cyclists, children and elderly people. They can be best protected through a safe road system that combines all the components above.

I feel privileged to work and live in northern BC. I believe we have an obligation to work together to prevent serious injuries and fatalities on our roads. As a road user and community member, I commit to doing my part to realize Vision Zero.

I would also like to thank two important contributors to this post – Natasha Thorne and Denise Foucher, both Regional Nursing Leads for Injury Prevention, with NH Population Health.

Want to learn more about road safety in your community?

  • Check out BC Road Safety Strategy and Community Toolkits
  • Check out ICBC Road Safety pages
  • Check out Parachute Canada’s Vision Zero Network

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