Vision Zero

What is Vision Zero?

Vision Zero is a strategy to eliminate all traffic fatalities and severe injuries, while increasing safety, mobility, and equity for all road users. The Vision Zero initiative originated in Sweden in 1994 as an approach to road safety thinking with the mindset that “No loss of life is acceptable”. It has proven successful in Europe, and in recent years, has quickly gained momentum in the United States.

Road safety issues are not uniquely American, but the design of our roads and the high use of vehicles increases the probability that traffic collisions can occur. According to the Vision Zero Network, a non-profit project committed to defining, building momentum, and advancing Vision Zero in communities across the U.S., more than 40,000 people are killed each year on American streets and thousands more are injured.

More than 40 cities across the U.S. have adopted a Vision Zero policy and have made a commitment to work toward eliminating traffic fatalities and severe injuries.

More and more communities in southern states including Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida are making Vision Zero commitments, which is encouraging given the strong need for safer roads in the region.

Vision Zero communities map Opens in new window

What Are the Trends?

Looking over the past decade (2009-2018), the number of pedestrians and the number of bicyclists who have been killed has steadily increased. This has happened because our streets, which have been designed for the movement of vehicles, have not changed considerably to safely accommodate the growing number of pedestrians and bicyclists. (Source:

2009-2018 trends for the U.S.

2009-2018 trends for the U.S. for fatal crashes, pedestrian deaths, bicycle deaths, and vehicle miles traveled image

2009-2018 trends for Virginia

2009-2018 trends for Virginia for fatal crashes, pedestrian deaths, bicycle deaths, and vehicle miles traveled image

Traffic Speed Limits

Methods for setting traffic speed limits are typically designed to recommend speed limits that:

  • Are related to crash risk
  • Provide a reasonable basis for enforcement
  • Are fair in the context of traffic law
  • Are accepted as reasonable by most road users

In addition, factors that affect safe speeds along roadways and influence the speed selected by motorists include:

  • A vehicle’s mechanical condition and characteristics
  • Driving abilities/characteristics
  • Traffic volume: vehicle, pedestrians & bicyclists
  • Weather and visibility
  • Roadway design elements
  • Pavement conditions
  • Crash frequency and severity

The Impact of Speed

Changes in speed can have major consequences:

As people travel faster, the risk of death or serious injury rises dramatically when crashes occur. As noted in the graphic, a pedestrian struck by a car driving at 40mph is 8 times more likely to die than a pedestrian stuck by a car driving at 20mph.

Likelihood of fatality or severe injury due to speed image

Speed also impacts a driver’s peripheral vision:

As a driver’s speed increases, his/her peripheral vision narrows drastically and can result in “tunnel vision” and decreased depth perception. At lower speeds, drivers have a wider field of view and are more likely to notice other road users, such as pedestrians and bicyclists. In the images, a driver traveling at 70mph has a much narrower line of sight than a driver traveling at 25mph.