What it takes to approach a rate of zero traffic fatalities

An expert discusses Sweden’s efforts to get to zero traffic fatalities:

But in Vision Zero, the accident is not the major problem. The problem is that people get killed or seriously injured. And the reason that people get serious injuries is mainly because people have a certain threshold where we can tolerate external violence, kinetic energy. And we know quite well now how much violence we can tolerate.One of the major things with Vision Zero now is to put that more explicitly on the table. It’s like if we’re talking about the environment, and you know you have a certain threshold when it comes to poison, or whatever. You can tolerate up to a certain level. So it’s not just to stop the traffic. You can actually allow traffic. But if you have places in your system where you have unprotected road users and protected road users, according to Vision Zero you can’t allow a higher speed than 30 kilometers per hour [18.6 mph]…

I will say that enforcement plays of course a role in Sweden, but not so much. We are going much more for engineering than enforcement. If you have a very dedicated police staff and they think it’s the most important thing, then you can be quite effective working with police. But I don’t think you will get a safe system. You will reduce risk, but you will not achieve a safe system.

What about camera enforcement?

We are doing it, but in a different way. First of all, it is a national policy. We have both rural and urban areas, and we work with both. And when it comes to safety cameras, which is what we call them, we have put them on most rural roads. We have one of the largest safety camera systems in the world, per population.

But they are not catching people — it’s nudging people. So we put up the cameras on a stretch, and we tell everyone, OK, now you’re going in this area, and in a friendly but firm way we say you have to keep the speed in this area because we have a history of crashes.

It sounds like this would create some interesting discussions in the United States: do we really want to nudge drivers in such directions or do we truly think cars and vehicles should the rulers of the road? Right now, many of our roads are geared toward helping drivers get from Point A to Point B as fast as they can. But, safety is an important issue and one that concerns a lot of people given the number of vehicle deaths.

Rioting in the Swedish suburbs

Youths are rioting in the Swedish suburbs after a recent violent incident involving police:

Hundreds of youths burnt down a restaurant, set fire to more than 30 cars and attacked police during a fourth night of rioting in the suburbs of Stockholm, shocking a country that dodged the worst of the financial crisis but failed to solve youth unemployment and resentment among asylum seekers.

Violence spread across the Swedish capital on Wednesday, as large numbers of young people rampaged through the suburbs, throwing stones, breaking windows and destroying cars. Police in the southern city of Malmo said two cars had been set ablaze…

The disturbances appear to have been sparked by the police killing a 69-year-old man wielding a machete in the suburb of Husby earlier this month, which prompted accusations of police brutality. The riots then spread to other poor Stockholm suburbs.

“We see a society that is becoming increasingly divided and where the gaps, both socially and economically, are becoming larger,” said Rami Al-khamisi, co-founder of Megafonen, a group that works for social change in the suburbs. “And the people out here are being hit the hardest … we have institutional racism.”

This sounds very similar to the context of the London riots a few years ago: the police are involved in a death and local residents respond in rioting while charging that this is part of a long line of negative actions taken by the police and government. However, we wouldn’t want to “commit sociology” by trying to explain such actions, would we?

This is a reminder of the state of some European suburbs where immigrants and lower-class residents live in run-down neighborhoods isolated from the native European society and opportunities for jobs and education. This is a different geography compared to the United States where rioting is linked to poor inner-city neighborhoods. But, the situations are alike: there is long-standing isolation, negative treatment from the government and police, and not much of a pathway to achieving the “good life” in society.

Reflecting on Swedish paternity leave

At Slate, Nathan Hegedus discusses his 18-month paternity leave in Sweden. Hegedus has some intriguing thoughts including the observation that “The dads act exactly like the moms” and more broadly, about how Swedish culture has seemed to prepare men for child-rearing:

I had expected great physical comedy in Daddyland—fathers covered with diaper leakage, babies covered with motor oil, men forcing resentful toddlers into soccer matches. I realize now how insensitive to my Swedish brothers this was. Swedish dads of my generation and younger have been raised to feel competent at child-rearing. They simply expect to do it, just as their wives and partners expect it of them (even though women still do far more child-related work in general). It’s eye-opening in a really boring way…

But there are deeper societal processes at work here, a shift of the very notion of Swedish masculinity. In a 2008 article in the journal Fathering, Anna-Lena Almqvist wrote that Swedish men have developed a “child-oriented masculinity.” Almqvist compared the attitudes of a selection of Swedish fathers with their French counterparts and found that, among couples with similar incomes, Swedish men emphasized the importance of parental leave and helping to raise their children. They also negotiated explicitly with their partners on child care issues. The French men did neither of these things.

While these are the observations of one man, Hegedus hints at the cultural socialization that accompanies child-rearing. It sounds like the policy decisions in Sweden have pushed men toward a new kind of masculinity that involves child-rearing, a domain that was traditionally left to women.

It would be interesting to read more about this, particularly about what this means more broadly for fatherhood and masculinity as well as how Hegedus’ experience is viewed by his American counterparts.