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All ambitious goals begin with a vision. In the case of Vision Zero, a Scandinavian-born safety movement, the goal is to eliminate deaths and severe injuries among all road users—drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists—by fundamentally rethinking and redesigning the traffic system.

Amid rising motor vehicle crashes in Ohio and across the country, governments are trying numerous strategies to improve traffic safety. Nearly 50 U.S. communities have committed to Vision Zero. Others, including Ohio’s Columbus, Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Toledo, are on the road to becoming a Vision Zero community. While Vison Zero has proven effective in Europe, its success has thus far not translated to the United States.

Traffic Deaths Up Statewide and Nationally

Over the last decade, as many developed nations saw declining traffic fatalities, the U.S. has been moving in the opposite direction. This trend came to a head during the pandemic, when road deaths surged despite a decline in travel.

Nationally, 42,915 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2021—the most since 2005 and the highest single year increase ever recorded by federal highway officials.

In Ohio, traffic fatalities increased for four straight years from 2018 – 2021. Although the number of roadway deaths fell slightly in 2022, they remain well above pre-pandemic levels. Over the recent Memorial Day weekend, Ohio State Highway Patrol reported 22 crashes resulting in 23 deaths—the most over the 4-day period since 2020.

Governor Mike DeWine has made road safety a priority of his administration. His administration’s efforts have included a new Ohio distracted driving law and $121 million in new projects. DeWine has also directed ODOT to improve 150 of the state’s most dangerous intersections.

Vision Zero in Ohio

Some Ohio communities, not content with merely reducing traffic deaths and injuries, are aiming to eradicate them entirely. They have as their model Vision Zero, a program developed in Sweden that takes a multidisciplinary, data-driven approach to road safety.

At the core of Vision Zero is the idea that traffic accidents—long considered an inevitable byproduct of modern life—are preventable through a combination of policymaking and infrastructure improvements. While the traditional approach to traffic safety focused on individual responsibility and improving human behavior, Vision Zero takes human error as a given and uses a systems approach to lessen the severity of crashes.

To join the list of recognized Vision Zero communities, a community must meet certain minimum criteria. While no city in Ohio has yet to obtain official Vision Zero status, a few are headed that way.

  • Columbus joined the Vision Zero movement in 2020, with the goal of reaching zero serious and fatal crashes by 2035.
  • Cincinnati launched Vizion Zero in 2019 and has planned or completed more than 180 projects targeting traffic calming, street redesign, speed limit reduction, and speed enforcement.
  • Cleveland’s Vision Zero initiative was approved in 2022 and sets a deadline of 2032.
  • Toledo committed to a 10-year Vision Zero goal in 2021. Its draft plan states that “Changing how Toledo’s streets are designed, used, and viewed can make them safer for everybody.”

Does Vision Zero Work?

Vision Zero commitments typically call for millions of dollars in annual investments. Cincinnati, for example, allocated around $9 million for the program’s most recent year.

But the million-dollar question is: are Vision Zero communities meeting their lofty goals?

The answer is: not really—at least not in the United States. In fact, in many U.S. Vision Zero cities, including Columbus, traffic deaths are continuing to rise.

America is not without Vision Zero success stories. Hoboken and Jersey City, New Jersey, Fremont, California, and New York City are notable exceptions. Overall, though, Vision Zero has yet to show the positive results here the way it has in Europe, where the program was born and which is far less car-oriented than the U.S.

Car Accidents Remain a Fact of Life For Now

Safer roads benefit us all and are a goal worth pursuing. Vision Zero advocates are correct to point out that car crashes are not “accidents” but preventable incidents with specific causes like speeding, distracted driving, and driving under the influence.

As long as there are car accidents in Ohio, and the state continues to operate under an “at-fault” insurance system, there will be a need for Ohio car accident lawyers.

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