Key to zero road deaths accepting 'people make mistakes' - expert

A Swedish road expert says the key to achieving zero deaths on our roads is accepting human error will always exist.

"People make mistakes," Dr Matts Belin told The Nation.

"It differs from the traditional way that we work with safety.

"In the traditional approach, you tried to create the perfect human being who is doing the right thing all the time, and you put the ultimate responsibility of safety on us as individual road users.

"But in a Vision Zero approach, you don't think that you can create a perfect human being and you have to accept that you have young people, you have old people, you have all kinds of people using this transport system, and you have to accommodate for them because people make mistakes."

Dr Belin is speaking from experience - Sweden has already adopted the Vision Zero approach, and deaths have dramatically decreased since.

In New Zealand seven people die on the road per every 100,000 in the population. Sweden used to be the same, but now that has dropped to less than three per 100,000.

The Auckland Council have brought Dr Belin in to explain the new approach. His advice?

"The important thing is to separate [cyclists and cars] of course.

"But in an urban area, you have lots of interaction between pedestrians and cyclists and so on, and when you design the urban area, you have to consider that situation.

"In Sweden now, we aim for 30km in those intersections, so you will see lots of roundabouts, lots of speed bumps and that sort of thing because we would like to make it safe for the unprotected road users."

While Dr Belin says drivers think it's too slow, it's not.

"You have to realise that if you get hit by a car at 50km, the risk that you get killed is more than 80 percent. If you get hit by a car at 30km, the risk is less than 10 percent so it's a dramatic difference between 30km or 40km or 50km, and we, as a driver, don't understand this."

He also says physical barriers between lanes eliminate the risk of head-on collisions.

So far there have been 323 road deaths in New Zealand this year.