Part 3: What the U.S. Vision Zero Movement Can Learn from European Public-Private Success

by Vision Zero Network | March 30, 2020 | in Global Lessons, International, News

By David Braunstein, guest contributor

This is part three in a five-part series sharing perspectives from various participants in the 3rd Global Road Safety Conference in February 2020, which set the goal of halving traffic deaths globally in the next 10 years. You can read the full series and our webinar on the same topic here.

David is President of Together for Safer Roads (TSR), a social business coalition based in the U.S. that facilitates private sector contributions to global road safety efforts internationally. Prior to leading TSR, David spearheaded innovation programs at IBM and a division of eBay.

From the beginning, Vision Zero discussions have involved public sector leaders, so when the United Nations convened its Third Ministerial Conference on Road Safety in Stockholm, Sweden — the birthplace of Vision Zero — Together for Safer Roads (TSR) was honored to receive an invite. TSR is a coalition that builds partnerships to prevent crashes and save lives. We were founded by business leaders half-way through the 2011-2020 Decade of Action for Road Safety because the private sector saw an important opportunity to help make good on the promise of halving traffic crashes and fatalities.

My visit to the road safety ministerial was more than an honor; it was an energizing experience, meeting visionary ministers, advocates and businesses from 140 countries. The commitment to the cause was palpable.

This past Decade of Action was a necessary call to action. Over a million people die in preventable road crashes each year. Unfortunately, the past Decade fell short of our collective goal. I went to Stockholm wondering what to do now? I went eager to learn from the international assembly. What are new ways that the private sector can support Vision Zero, particularly in the United States?

I was emboldened by the sophistication and ambition of the public-private partnerships I learned about in Stockholm. I see tremendous opportunities for cross-sector collaboration that builds upon “value chains.” What does that mean? A “value chain” is the process or activities by which an organization adds value to an article or service it delivers. For example, part of the value chain of a food or beverage company is the logistics company that delivers its products. Value chains are the engines of growth and success and represent the full extent of talent, expertise, resources and business networks that can be brought to bear.

Enough of the business school lingo. Let’s talk about why this can matter.

On the Conference main stage, the CEO of Folksam, Sweden’s largest insurance company, spoke about using some of its $50 billion of investable assets – and importantly, its expertise – to develop a market for road safety social impact investments. If Safe Systems road design and development are foundational to achieving Vision Zero, yet hamstrung by chronic funding shortages, the potential of tying capital and expertise to safety-related investments cannot be understated.

The United States boasts the most innovative capital markets anywhere, drawing investment from around the globe. Imagine how Folksam’s provocation and vision could be a game changer if the United States used this same concept to accelerate the infrastructure changes we so badly need. Adding more sidewalks, more protected bike lanes, more traffic calming features, upgrading intelligent transportation systems would all be realized sooner.

As Vision Zero leaders, let’s also amplify how safety can be proactively baked into operations. Procurement is power, and private companies understand leverage, so let’s invite them into the heart of Vision Zero initiatives. Businesses with large fleets could write safety into the vehicle standards they give to auto manufacturers. Proven safety features like telematics and advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) should be standard equipment on commercial vehicles.

At the Ministerial Conference I saw the sophisticated relationship between European automakers, transportation-dependent organizations and Vision Zero leaders. They all embrace Safe Systems, so it’s easy to see how European roads have the safest vehicles and most responsible operators in the world. Peers push peers to adopt safe vehicles and safe operations. Buyers push car companies and original equipment manufacturers to innovate for safety. Local and national authorities reinforce this with high standards and a level playing field. Modal shift is discussed across sectors. And now industry leaders are talking about protecting people outside of vehicles as much as inside. Collectively, this creates a transportation value chain that’s focused on safety not just profitability.


This is part three in a five-part series sharing perspectives from various participants in the 3rd Global Road Safety Conference in February 2020, which set the goal of halving traffic deaths globally in the next 10 years. Read the full series here.

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