There have already been 29 deaths on London’s roads in the first eight weeks of the year, compared with 10 in the same period last year. This terrible toll highlights the need for a ‘Vision Zero’ policy on road safety, an idea I have been proposing as part of my mayoral campaign.
While there is no overall pattern to this threefold increase, the four cycling deaths were all caused by left turning lorries, three of which were tipper trucks which operate under laxer rules than other HGVs. That points out the need for a systematic approach to road safety to ensure that every death is examined thoroughly by a new body, rather like those in the rail and aviation industries.
One contributing cause for the increase is the virtual abandonment of traffic policing in London. A senior policeman admitted to me recently that police cars dealing with traffic issues very rarely enter the central area and anyway mostly spend their time dealing with accidents. This lack of police presence has made motorists realise that if they dodge the few cameras still functioning, they can pretty much do as they please.
Instead of occasional blitzes like the highly successful Operation Safeway targeted at both motorists and cyclists for a few weeks in late 2013, the Met needs to reassert traffic policing as one of its priorities. This should be under the aegis of the type of ‘Vision Zero’ approach which has led to a dramatic reduction in road deaths in New York under mayor Bill de Blasio which last year resulted in the lowest rate of pedestrian deaths since 1910, thanks to better enforcement, slower speed limits, more speed cameras and the creation of ‘slow zones’.
Sweden has had a policy of ‘Vision Zero’ for road deaths enshrined in law since 1997. This implies zero tolerance to road deaths and involves a long-term programme of designing out risk to road users, greater enforcement of traffic infringements by police and designing much safer pedestrian crossings. Consequently pedestrian deaths have halved and overall Sweden has the lowest rate of road deaths of developed countries, with only 3 per 100,000 people, compared with a European average of 5.5.
In London, we can start off by creating a default 20 mph zone. Of course a few main roads would have faster limits but the overall effect would be to make motorists pay more attention to speed, as has clearly happened in Islington where I live since the implementation of the 20 mph zone.
We need, too a freight strategy to reduce the number of lorries at peak times, as happened during the Olympics, to limit the exposure of vulnerable road users such as pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists. Safe routes for cyclists and reducing risks to pedestrians through longer crossing times are other obvious innovations.
If this level of deaths were taking place on any other mode of transport, there would be a public outcry and a call for action. While the death toll on the roads has fallen dramatically since the turn of the century, the past two years have seen increases. The rise in deaths in the capital this year demands a new approach so well illustrated by the success of the Vision Zero approach elsewhere.