While the world average of traffic fatalities is 17.4 fatalities per 100,000 – Sweden has managed to bring it down to a mere 2.8 fatality per 100,000.
The story of Sweden is that of iron-clad commitment and resolve to ensure that their roads become one of the safest in the world.
In 1950, Sweden’s roads were so unsafe that within 20 years, road fatalities doubled and the menace seemed to be unstoppable. By 1967, the government figured out that part of this problem lay in the direction of traffic flow where Left-hand cars were being driven on the left-hand side of the road which would make them harder for the driver to overtake as they could not see the incoming traffic on the right side.
To counter this, Swedes came up with “The Right Lane Driving Commission” and 3rd September 1967 was marked as Dagen H (H day) or “Högertrafikomläggningen” (“The right-hand traffic diversion”)
In just one day, they managed to complete the switchover without a single incident. Over 360,000 road signs were changed, speed limits were reduced and introduced in places where they did not previously exist.
The campaign had its own song as well as merchandise to remind Swedes of the H-day.
“Keep it right, Svensson, keep it right”
The campaign met with such a success that the Swedish government formed the “Swedish Road Safety Agency” in 1968. Much of the difference was made when wearing seatbelts and helmets became mandatory and reduced speed limits to ensure safer driving on the roads.
(News covering H-day switch)
While the agency was making its inroads, Swedish automaker Volvo’s engineer Nils Bohlin came invented the 3-point seatbelt that comes standard in all vehicles. He was so committed to the road safety that he gave up the patent so anyone could use it and help save lives.
The agency’s hard work eventually paid off as the number of fatalities sharply declined from over 1300 per year in 1970 to just under 270 in 2015 all while the number of vehicles doubled from a little over 2 million in 1970 to nearly 4.7 million in 2015.
There is always a trade-off between speed, convenience, and safety - out of which, Sweden opted for safety and emerged as a leading country in Road Safety.
The country is still not done, however. Since 1997, Sweden has been working on “Vision Zero” – The goal of which is to ensure that there are zero deaths on the roads.
Vision Zero is a multi-national goal to achieve zero fatalities on the roads where countries such as the US, Canada, UK, India, etc are working hard to achieve this target by the next 5 to 20 years. Regional Agencies such as EuroRAP (Road Assessment Programme) also help countries achieve the goals for Vision Zero.
To date, Pakistan has neither realized the gravity of this problem nor has even planned to look into it. With the car population on the rise and projects such as CPEC and Silk Road, we expect heavier traffic in the coming years.
For a rich country like Sweden, it took them from 1968 to 2015 for the annual fatalities to come down from over 1300 to under 270. Pakistan currently stands at over 5000 to 6000 annually and is on the rise every year.
If we do not begin working on our own H-day now and campaign for #SaferCarsPakistan, we may lose double the people in road accidents than we did in Terrorism cases before we realize the gravity of the situation.
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