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How Vision Zero
leans on
smart technology
to help improve
traffic safety 

Author: Adam Kimmel

In 2020, an estimated 42,000 people lost their lives to car crashes in the U.S., according to the National Security Council. Over the years, a number of initiatives have looked at ways to improve traffic safety, including pedestrian safety and intersection safety. One initiative in particular, Vision Zero, is showing promise.

What is Vision Zero?

Vision Zero, a global initiative that began in Sweden in the 1990s, is striving to eliminate traffic fatalities and severe injuries while increasing safety and healthy mobility. The initiative focuses on education, enforcement, engineering, encouragement, equity and evaluation, all while promoting the underlying philosophy that basic safety comes from designs that protect people.

The goal of Vision Zero is to unite stakeholders, including government officials, technology companies, engineers and designers, to solve traffic safety challenges and create solutions that span disciplines and technologies, including smart traffic lights, parking solutions and more intelligent, safer intersections.

More than 40 U.S. communities have joined the initiative. While many of the first communities to join were larger cities, an increasing number of mid-sized and suburban communities are now embracing the Vision Zero approach. For instance, Bellevue, Wash., and Alexandria, Va., cities with populations of approximately 145,000 and 158,000 respectively, have joined the movement. Bellevue is aiming to eliminate traffic deaths and serious-injury collisions on city streets by 2030, while Alexandria is aiming to achieve zero traffic fatalities by 2028.

Smart technology that promotes traffic safety and pedestrian safety

Cities, suburbs and rural areas can meet the targets by implementing smart technology that promotes traffic safety and pedestrian safety that is easy to use and deploy. They can do this by leveraging data to create new opportunities and effect change within their cities, enabling easier and more cost-effective decisions for city officials. This smart technology can pinpoint critical data points, such as pedestrian fatalities, and design changes to help promote traffic safety, including pedestrian safety and intersection safety.

With the increase of automobiles’ sensors, the vehicle can transmit and record data to conduct a root-cause analysis of a fatality or near-collision. Vehicle sensors collect data from automatic/autonomous emergency braking and electronic stability control systems to predict and automatically respond to a potential hazard before the driver can react.

The data collected provides insight into the specific problem to solve. Sometimes, the solution is updating street signs, increasing the number of lanes or traffic light cycles, or engaging law enforcement to change driver behavior. Lower speed limits not only reduce injuries and fatalities for those in vehicles but also lead to improved pedestrian safety and intersection safety. As vehicle speed increases, the worse the outcome when a vehicle collides with a pedestrian. Vision Zero’s data states that 90 percent of pedestrians survive a collision with a car traveling at 20 mph, whereas only 10 percent survive if the vehicle is traveling at 40 mph.

A holistic approach toward zero traffic fatalities

It’s clear that in order to achieve their zero traffic fatalities goal, cities need to implement a wide-ranging strategy that includes parking, traffic and pedestrian safety in a holistic approach. On top of technological adoptions, communities will have to embrace a shift in mindset and culture, as well.

In Bellevue, for example, adopting an approach that focuses on the wording of a fatality description rather than the outcome highlights the action that caused it, rather than the passive result. For example, the community recommends replacing the word “accident” with “crash” and phrases such as “pedestrian was hit” with “a car hit a pedestrian.” This subtle change increases focus on the action, not the result.

Cities should look for solutions that are flexible, easy to upgrade and cloud-integrated. Some of the solutions currently being used across the country include intersection safety, which brings smart cameras to street lights, traffic signals and other locations. The devices count vehicles, parked cars, pedestrians and cyclists; transfer metadata to a cloud-based platform; and relay that data to city designers via an integrated application. Based on these critical insights, city planners design intersections and traffic flows to create a safer community.

Learn more about Verizon's smart cities solutions to aid in Vision Zero’s mission.