Approved by the Transportation Policy Committee on March 3, 2023
Approved by the Public Policy and Practice Committee on April 19, 2023
Adopted by the Board of Direction on July 22, 2023
The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) supports Vision Zero, which is a design strategy to eliminate traffic fatalities and severe injuries among all road users, and to ensure safe, healthy, equitable mobility for all. Vision Zero is based on the tenets that traffic fatalities can be prevented, are unacceptable, and even one traffic-related death is too many.
ASCE believes that the following principles are important approaches that will contribute to eliminating traffic-related fatalities and injuries:
- Safety, health, and welfare of the public are the highest priority in engineering design. Transportation systems should be safe for all users.
- Transportation systems should be designed to protect human life and be based on target speeds appropriate for the context and type of facility.
- Funding for transportation system operations should include provisions for data collection and analyses, monitoring, and enforcement of applicable traffic laws.
- Local, county, and state departments of transportation should regularly update their manuals and design guides to reflect the latest safety best practices.
- Local, state, and federal departments of transportation should collect and analyze data to understand safety issues and prioritize investments.
- New safety technologies and programs should be implemented into design and construction rapidly.
To achieve the Vision Zero principles, transportation infrastructure funding should be increased to modernize and upgrade existing facilities and develop new transportation infrastructure utilizing the latest engineering standards.
Despite the increased emphasis on reducing traffic-related crashes through programs and initiatives such as Vision Zero, traffic fatalities are still on the rise. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported an estimated 42,915 people were killed in motor vehicle traffic crashes on U.S. roadways in 2021, a 10.5% increase from 2020. This estimate is the highest number of fatalities since 2005 and the largest annual increase in the Fatality Analysis Reporting System’s history. Vulnerable road users, such as pedestrians, cyclists, and users with disabilities accounted for approximately 20% of the 2021 fatalities.
Evolving behaviors by road users influenced by new technologies and increased challenges in enforcement have contributed to increased traffic-related fatalities. Engineering practices must continue to adapt as technologies and human behaviors evolve. The appropriate use of current engineering design standards and the implementation of connected and autonomous vehicles can increase reasonable protection for roadway users. Temporary treatments should be deployed to pilot safety improvements before full design and construction implementation.
Vision Zero recognizes the importance of roadway design in reducing traffic-related fatalities and serious injuries. The ASCE Code of Ethics states that “Engineers first and foremost, protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public.”
Vision Zero was conceived in Sweden in 1994, and was incorporated into law three years later, and has been included in numerous traffic safety related materials, including the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) “Transportation Safety Planning and the Zero Deaths Vision: A Guide for Metropolitan Planning Organizations and Local Communities.” As of August 2022, 53 U.S. communities have joined the Vision Zero Network, which is an alliance of communities committed to making streets safer by taking actions such as redesigning areas that have a history of high crashes and lowering speed limits where possible. Vision Zero is based on the premise that traffic deaths and injuries can be prevented; therefore, none are acceptable. It calls for safety to be the primary consideration in transportation decision-making.
Vision Zero is founded on four principles:
- Ethics: Human life and health are paramount and take priority over mobility and other objectives of the road traffic system.
- Responsibility: providers and regulators of the road traffic system share responsibility with users.
- Safety: road traffic systems should take account of human fallibility and minimize both the opportunities for errors and the harm done when they occur.
- Mechanisms for change: providers and regulators must do their utmost to guarantee the safety of all citizens; they must cooperate with road users; and all three must be ready to change to achieve safety.
ASCE Policy Statement 552
First Approved 2017