by Leah Shahum November 1, 2022 in News

Vision Zero is Possible: Analysis Shows Path to Safe Mobility

More people – sons, daughters, grandparents, friends – were hit and killed while walking in the U.S. in 2021 than at any time in the past 40 years. Overall, roadway deaths reached a 16-year-high in 2021 in this nation. So far, 2022 is on the same tragic pace.

But it doesn’t have to be this way: Zero is Possible

No one is claiming it will be quick or easy. But, no one should say that it’s impossible or pointless. Vision Zero – the goal of zero roadway deaths and severe injuries – is achievable. And, for the most part, we already have the tools and know-how to do it (see below).

A fast-growing number of communities and leaders across the nation — including the U.S. Department of Transportation — recognize the life-saving power and potential of setting the goal of Vision Zero and shifting to a Safe System approach that prioritizes safe mobility over speed.

We need to step up the public and political will to implement the strategies that will save lives and shift the paradigm to prioritize safe mobility for all people.

Let’s Do the Math -> Moving to Zero

Based on reliable data and expert analysis, projections show that the tools and knowledge exist today to significantly reduce roadway deaths. A combination of policy changes, modernized road designs, and advanced technologies exist. If implemented, they are estimated to prevent 75% of the causes of today’s roadway fatalities.

These are not pie-in-the-sky wishes, but projections based on existing strategies and known conditions. The strategies include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • Advanced Driver Assistance Systems in all vehicles (existing technologies)
      • estimated up to 10,000 lives saved/year (Rand report)
  • Alcohol Detection Systems in all vehicles (existing technologies)
  • Speed management strategies, technologies
  • Roadway design improvements
  • Shift to more transit, walking, biking trips
  • Improved emergency response to crashes


31,500 estimated total = ¾ of the way to 42,915, estimated deaths in 2021

Note that the estimates above do not include the substantial safety gains expected from future technological advances, not yet fully available but anticipated. Based on experience over the past decade, those coming tech improvements are likely to account for another 10,000+ lives saved.

Importantly, our projections do not include an increase in traditional police enforcement — due to problems of racial biases and questionable traffic safety effectiveness data — nor an increase in traditional education — because of a troublesome track-record of victim-blaming (more about Evolving beyond the traditional “E’s” of traffic safety).

Not Accidents…but Inaction

The record numbers of severe crashes injuring and killing people in the U.S. are not unavoidable accidents. And they should not surprise us. They are, largely, predictable and preventable results of systems that have been developed over time. And systems can be changed.

Unlike most other high-income nations, which are steadily improving safe mobility, the U.S.has mostly stuck with a failing system that trades safety for speed and perceived convenience. The U.S. ranks 47th out of 54 in traffic fatality rates among high-income nations, according to the World Health Organization (2019).

Photo credit: Vern Krutein on Flickr
Photo credit: Angie Schmitt

We built these systems: We can change them

What does change look like? Based on the analysis and projections shared above, the following list highlights some of the proven safety strategies that exist today and could be – should be – leveraged as soon as possible:

  • Redesigning roadways that are known to be dangerous in order to discourage high speed travel (more info);
  • Lowering speed limits for safe travel (more info);
  • Ensuring new vehicles are designed for safety and equipped with existing, proven safety technologies, such as intelligent speed assistance and automatic emergency braking systems responding to people walking and biking (more info);
  • Boosting transit access and reliability to reduce vehicle travel; and
  • Adding safe, connected walking and biking facilities to support alternatives to driving.

Championing Change: Committing to Vision Zero

We cannot and must not accept that these fatalities are somehow an inevitable part of life in America… When it comes to roadway deaths, we have a crisis that’s urgent, unacceptable – and preventable. People make mistakes. But human mistakes don’t always have to be lethal. And in a well-designed system, safety measures make sure that human fallibility does not lead to human fatalities. Our goal is zero deaths; a country where, one day, nobody has to say goodbye to a loved one because of a traffic crash. I understand the scale of the challenge and the ambition represented by that goal. And I understand that we may not get there during my tenure as Secretary. But the decision – to commit to that goal in a serious way, at a national level – changes the way cities and towns design roads, it changes the ways companies build cars, and it changes the way people drive them. Jurisdictions and organizations that have adopted that goal have used it to save lives, and it is now our intention to do the same as a matter of national policy.”

Secretary Pete Buttigieg, U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), upon releasing the nation’s first National Roadway Safety Strategy on January 27, 2022 (full transcript)

But most of all these victims should be remembered as what they were: flesh & blood. Human. Vulnerable… Don’t think of numbers, think of people. Put them at the center of every decision about our road system. That’s the paradigm shift that we need — to make our many layers of traffic hazards into layers of traffic protection, so that when crashes happen, nobody pays for it with their life.”

–  Jennifer Homendy, Chair, National Transportation Safety Board, November 21, 2021 – World Day of remembrance (full text)


Read the full Rand report here

“While it will take a generation, the success of other countries and some U.S. cities demonstrates that a combination of approaches makes this an achievable goal.”

The Road to Zero report, developed in 2018 by the Rand Corporation in partnership with the National Safety Council and other traffic safety organizations




Read the full report here

 “Our current road system is designed to move cars quickly, with other considerations of secondary importance. The cost of this singular focus over 100 years of roadbuilding is a predictable loss of about 100 people per day in the U.S.

Change is possible. Other nations have shown that roads can serve mobility needs – for work, business or pleasure – without creating an extreme risk. They have demonstrated that designing and maintaining the road environment – including sidewalks and bike paths – to fit the needs of people works far better than focusing solely on designing roads for moving vehicles quickly.” 

Recommendations of the Safe System Consortium, developed in 2021 by a group convened by the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy and the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) and supported by the FIA Foundation


Learn more about Vision Zero and the work of the Vision Zero Network.

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