Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Road Safety - Choice Architecture in Sweden

Sweden has the lowest road accident rates in the world, just 2.7 deaths per 1000,000 people last year. And it has been declining since the country adopted the Vision Zero goal to eliminate road accidents.

Choice architecture has been the underlying theme behind its Vision Zero interventions,
In a departure from most American traffic safety approaches... Swedish authorities have generally dismissed the effects of education or enforcement on pedestrian safety... “Design around the human as we are,” said Claes Tingvall, the director of traffic safety at the Swedish Transport Administration and a godfather of the Vision Zero plan.... The result has been a sort of social contract between state and citizen: If residents follow the most basic traffic laws, engineers can design roads to guard against all fatalities.
One example is nudging to lower speed,
Potted vegetation is a traffic tool, placed on local roads to slow down drivers on straightaways... About 20 years ago, a now-defunct program allowed some homeowners to decide where speed bumps would be installed. The result: a hump every 20 meters in some neighborhoods, and some very slow trips home.
And nudging to reduce drunken driving,
In Sweden, nearly all school buses and government vehicles include built-in Breathalyzers, which prevent a car from starting if a driver is not sober. About one-third of Swedish taxis have also added the technology.
I think this approach, which designs mitigation measures conditional on the general human behavior, should be the way forward on many civic and social issues like energy and water conservation, littering, road safety etc. This assumes even greater significance in many less developed countries where the scale of these civic and social problems are much greater and likelihood of success with either enforcement or awareness creation minimal. 

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