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Federal Highway Administration > Publications > Public Roads > Vol. 71 · No. 6 > The Quest For Zero Fatalities

Nov/Dec 2008
Vol. 71 · No. 6

Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-09-001

The Quest For Zero Fatalities

by Summer Clarke

A comprehensive program aims to eliminate deaths on Utah's roadways.

Utah's Zero Fatalities program uses the wrecked car shown here and other outreach methods to drive home the point that traffic fatalities are not acceptable. All photos courtesy of Zero Fatalities.
Utah's Zero Fatalities program uses the wrecked car shown here and other outreach methods to drive home the point that traffic fatalities are not acceptable.

According to the World Health Organization, globally motor vehicle crashes kill 1.2 million people every year and injure or disable as many as 50 million more. Crashes are the second leading cause of death among people ages 5 to 29 years old and the third leading cause of death among people 30 to 44 years old.

For decades, countries around the world have taken steps to improve traffic safety, but only recently have they begun to act on the idea that traffic fatalities can be eliminated altogether. Vision Zero, developed in 1997 by public health researchers in Sweden, was the first program based on the principle that, theoretically at least, traffic fatalities can be reduced to zero. According to Vision Zero, safety should be based on refusing to accept human deaths or lifelong suffering as a result of traffic crashes.

Other European countries, including Estonia, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, and Portugal, have since implemented Vision Zero. These countries saw a decrease in all road fatalities by 14 percent for 2001-2004, according to the report Vision Zero: Adopting a Target of Zero for Road Traffic Fatalities and Serious Injuries, released in 2006 by the Stockholm Environment Institute.

In the United States, 24 percent of all highway fatalities are 16- to 25- year-olds—that is more than 10,000 deaths annually. The California Office of Traffic Safety has found that a 16-year-old is 20 times more likely to be killed in a vehicle crash than an adult, due largely to inexperience.

The Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) believes that the loss of even one life on the State's highways is too many and that deaths on the Nation's roadways often are preventable. In 2006, to reduce the number of deaths on Utah's roadways, UDOT established a program that calls on partnerships with public agencies and private sector organizations to help the agency educate the public, especially young drivers, on road safety. Envisioning a future when there are no traffic-related deaths, UDOT calls the new program Zero FatalitiesTM.

Zero Fatalities Program Adopted in Utah

Between 2000 and 2005, Utah saw a 24 percent reduction in overall roadway fatalities. The declining trend can be attributed to Utah's efforts in engineering improvements in roads, educational programs for new and experienced drivers, and enforcement initiatives to ensure proper driving behavior. To reduce this number even more, UDOT created the Zero Fatalities program in 2006. Zero Fatalities adds the dictum that every person behind the wheel of a vehicle should take responsibility for themselves and other motorists to drive safely. The program aspires to alter misconceptions about traffic fatalities being inevitable and acceptable. Eliminating fatalities is "A Goal We Can All Live With"TM, says the program's tagline, and the Zero Fatalities program aims to generate intolerance in society for any traffic deaths.

Zero Fatalities specifies five driving behaviors that contribute significantly to the number of fatalities in roadway crashes: drowsy driving, distracted driving, aggressive driving, impaired driving, and lack of seatbelt use. To help ensure that the multifaceted program will have maximum effect, UDOT aligned the program's goals with those of the Utah Comprehensive Safety Plan (UCSP), which focuses on engineering, education, emergency response, and enforcement.

UDOT Deputy Director Carlos Braceras (at the podium) introduced the Zero Fatalities program at a kickoff event in 2006. He told the assembled crowd that reaching the goal of zero fatalities will require a united effort from individuals, families, communities, the Federal Government, State organizations, and businesses, targeting the top five behaviors that cause fatalities on Utah roads.
UDOT Deputy Director Carlos Braceras (at the podium) introduced the Zero Fatalities program at a kickoff event in 2006. He told the assembled crowd that reaching the goal of zero fatalities will require a united effort from individuals, families, communities, the Federal Government, State organizations, and businesses, targeting the top five behaviors that cause fatalities on Utah roads.

The ultimate goal of the UCSP is also zero fatalities. "Everything we do from an engineering standpoint to make our roads safer supports the Zero Fatalities philosophy," says Robert Hull, director of traffic and safety for UDOT.

"We want to improve safety regardless of the discipline," adds Hull. "State departments of transportation often think of engineering their way out of problems. Zero Fatalities looks at all angles, especially the behavior side of things."

In this regard, Zero Fatalities is a program, not just a campaign. "Typically, a campaign consists of ads and marketing tactics that are often short-lived," says Hull. "They inform and educate the public on a given topic, and eventually fizzle out or lose funding. Zero Fatalities, however, is a program. It determines our funding prioritization and helps establish our annual performance measures to reduce fatalities. Zero Fatalities is the roadmap and compass that guide our direction."

UDOT acknowledges that supporting behavior-based programs is a new approach to traffic safety from a DOT standpoint. However, to accomplish its goal, the department partners with the Utah Highway Safety Office and other organizations in addressing critical roadway issues. Zero Fatalities is the umbrella program to all the other traffic safety programs in the State.

Partnership Is Key To Success

Partnerships are at the core of coordinating the Zero Fatalities message. The program maximizes its reach throughout Utah by working with a variety of agencies and organizations involved in improving safety. "Having partnerships opens many doors," says Stacy Johnson, a Zero Fatalities partner and educator with the Salt Lake Valley Health Department (SLVHD). "As a team, you achieve the goals you need to achieve."

Johnson notes that the more people involved in the program, the more credible it becomes. Agencies and groups from many levels participate in Zero Fatalities, including the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA); Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration; UDOT; State of Utah Office of Education; Utah Department of Public Safety, including the Highway Patrol, Driver License, and Highway Safety divisions; and Utah Department of Health, including the Violence and Injury Prevention and Emergency Medical Services divisions. Local participants include the Primary Children's Medical Center, municipalities, health departments, school districts, companies such as 3M, and organizations such as the American Traffic Safety Services Association.

"The more awareness there is in the community about Zero Fatalities, the more people want to become involved and help," says Kristy Rigby, program manager at the Utah Highway Safety Office. "Unified outreach efforts, media events, and educational programs will catch the attention of government organizations, public entities, and businesses, and will encourage them to unify their focus to changing the top five contributing factors of traffic crashes."

The Zero Fatalities headstone display, shown here at The University of Utah right before spring break in 2008, represented the traffic fatalities for 2007. No students died in crashes over spring break following this installation.
The Zero Fatalities headstone display, shown here at The University of Utah right before spring break in 2008, represented the traffic fatalities for 2007. No students died in crashes over spring break following this installation.

Outreach

Modification of the public's driving behavior starts internally within the partner organizations through maintenance of consistent communication, coordination, and cooperation among State, regional, and local agencies; safety organizations; and advocates.

Don't Drive Stupid

Utah teens are a small percentage of all licensed drivers, but they cause more than three times as many crashes as adult drivers. To address this public safety concern, Zero Fatalities devised a program targeting teens called "Don't Drive Stupid."

"While the 'Don't Drive Stupid' catchphrase may not sit well with adults, it's a message that certainly registers with teens," says Hollie Davis, information specialist for the Utah Safety Council.

To maximize the program reach, Utah formed a Don't Drive Stupid Teen Driving Task Force involving nearly a dozen State, local, and private organizations. "The teen task force has a common goal, and that goal can only be achieved when we all work together," explains Stacy Johnson of the Salt Lake Valley Health Department (SLVHD). "In our meetings we bounce ideas off one another and learn from others' experiences. We get a different perspective of why some ideas may work and why other ideas won't work. I believe this kind of teamwork makes any program successful."

The following Don't Drive Stupid resources are available to teens and teachers:

  • Buckle Up and Don't Drive Stupid hand stamps for sports events and stomps (school dances)
  • Entertainment at halftime or assemblies sponsored by Zero Fatalities
  • Zero Fatalities, Buckle Up, and Don't Drive Stupid banners
  • A 6-week teen driving program conducted by student body officers
  • Promotional items distributed by local health departments and Zero Fatalities
  • Guest speakers and interactive games to educate students on injury prevention, driving choices/consequences, and driver/passenger lessons
  • The Zero Fatalities crashed car
  • The headstone display representing every fatality on Utah's roads
In a 6-week SLVHD program, Salt Lake City high schools play Zero Fatalities commercials during morning announcements; hang Don't Drive Stupid banners; and pass out T-shirts, lip balm, posters, and backpacks, such as the one shown here. SLVHD also developed interactive activities such as 'Death Day,' when students cannot speak during the day in recognition of the voices silenced through traffic fatalities.
In a 6-week SLVHD program, Salt Lake City high schools play Zero Fatalities commercials during morning announcements; hang Don't Drive Stupid banners; and pass out T-shirts, lip balm, posters, and backpacks, such as the one shown here. SLVHD also developed interactive activities such as "Death Day," when students cannot speak during the day in recognition of the voices silenced through traffic fatalities.

 

'The Zero Fatalities crashed car has been a hit at the high schools,' says Jennifer Riches, student body adviser at a Salt Lake City high school. 'Watching the kids walk by the car and look in, you can see their minds going, 'How did anyone survive this?'' Here the car is parked in front of Franklin Covey Field, the city's minor league baseball stadium.
"The Zero Fatalities crashed car has been a hit at the high schools," says Jennifer Riches, student body adviser at a Salt Lake City high school. "Watching the kids walk by the car and look in, you can see their minds going, 'How did anyone survive this?'" Here the car is parked in front of Franklin Covey Field, the city's minor league baseball stadium.

Hull encouraged strong communication by supporting several partnership projects. In 2006, Zero Fatalities cosponsored the Safe Kids Utah initiative to distribute car seats and booster seats to local health departments to redistribute to low-income families.

"They [Safe Kids staff] were able to provide car seats and booster seats to low-income families, and we could offer funds to supplement the ongoing success of their projects," Hull says. "When partners benefit from working with UDOT, it strengthens those partnerships and improves our relationships."

Zero Fatalities' other outreach efforts involving partnerships include roles in the Utah Safety Council's Alive at 25 initiative, Utah Highway Patrol's Adopt-a-High School program, and Utah Department of Public Safety's Click It Or Ticket events. Program staff members also participate in health and safety conferences, expos, and events across the State.

Zero Fatalities' outreach resources—material intended to turn heads, get attention, and deliver the message—include a headstone display, banners, and Zero Fatalities-branded giveaways. The headstones represent all the roadway fatalities from the prior year. As just one example of outreach, program staff set up the headstone display at The University of Utah a day before spring break in March 2008. There were zero fatalities from The University of Utah that weekend.

The Teen Task Force created a brochure to educate teenagers on driving laws, teen crash statistics, and graduated driver's licensing. Another creation, the print and Web ad, 'Driving Stupid Can Really Make You Look Bad,' shown here, connects well with young people.
The Teen Task Force created a brochure to educate teenagers on driving laws, teen crash statistics, and graduated driver's licensing. Another creation, the print and Web ad, "Driving Stupid Can Really Make You Look Bad," shown here, connects well with young people.

In other examples, program staff members manned the Zero Fatalities booth at several sporting events, such as Real Salt Lake soccer games and Salt Lake Bees baseball games. At expos and conferences, the staff passed out brochures and promotional items, such as highlighters, pens, and stopwatches. Also, "Don't Drive Stupid" promotional items such as T-shirts, hats, lip balm, and tote bags have proved popular at high school events. Seatbelt surveys went out before and after the high school events, and the percentage of seatbelt users increased as a result of these outreach activities.

A Zero Fatalities newsletter, Zero News, aims to improve communication between program partners and the public. A Web site, www.zerofatalities.com, is another creative tool used for communications purposes. Web site visitors such as partner agencies and educators can download award-winning TV commercials, radio ads, posters, brochures, and other resources to use in their own outreach activities. Utah's Teen Driving Task Force also created lists of safety contacts and Web sites, available at www.dontdrivestupid.com, to facilitate quick access to community programs and partner resources.

Zero Fatalities gains exposure through television and radio commercials, strategically placed print ads, and press releases. Numerous individuals and organizations have endorsed the award-winning outreach materials, including politicians, planning organizations, law enforcement officials, driver's education instructors, high school counselors and students, private businesses, city administrators, and community leaders.

Outcomes

The headstone display and other innovative aspects of Zero Fatalities already are proving effective. Awareness of the program among drivers between the ages of 18 and 54 in 2007 grew from 35 percent in 2006 to 49 percent in late 2007, according to an independent study by a Utah market research firm. The percentages are extraordinary considering the program had been running for a little more than 2 years, the firm said. Most important, Zero Fatalities is helping save lives, as evidenced by the continued downward trend in fatality rates. After the program's first year, traffic fatality statistics showed significant reductions in unsafe driving behaviors compared to the previous year. By August 2007, there were 178 traffic fatalities; however, in August 2008, there were only 147, a 17 percent decrease.

The program brings engineering, education, emergency response, and enforcement efforts to bear on achieving the goal. Zero Fatalities is achieving this goal by educating young people and working through its partnerships. For example, Utah Highway Patrol's Adopt-A-High School program was able to increase the number of teens wearing seatbelts in several high schools. Other successful partnerships include the following: Alive at 25, the Primary Children's Medical Center's booster seat education, driver license laws, new online driver tools, engineering of barrier cables, and high-speed curve electronic signs—all of which operate in partnership with Zero Fatalities and have helped reduce Utah's highway deaths.

Each headstone in the Zero Fatalities display, such as the ones shown here, represents one highway death.
Each headstone in the Zero Fatalities display, such as the ones shown here, represents one highway death.

Spreading the Word

Zero Fatalities has captured national attention, and other States are considering implementing the program. Fortunately, States can easily adapt the outreach elements to suit their needs with only slight modifications, such as identifying the top contributors to their fatalities and adding their partners' logos to advertising materials. By using the same materials and messaging, the program will maintain a consistent, well-recognized brand identity for all Zero Fatalities partner States, the next goal for UDOT's Hull and other program participants.

"It would be great to have a national movement on the ultimate goal," says Hull. "No matter what it is called, zero should be the main component, integrating efforts not only locally but also around the country."

Programs in Other States

Washington. In 2000, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) teamed with sister agencies associated with the Washington Traffic Safety Commission and Governor to create the Governor's Quality Initiative of Target Zero. A steering committee also included the Washington State Patrol, Washington State Department of Licensing, and Washington State Department of Health, along with State and local agencies and private organizations. The partners designed a plan to support the goal of achieving zero traffic deaths and injuries within 30 years.

In 2005, a State-developed Strategic Highway Safety Plan became a Federal requirement. Washington State met the challenge with Target Zero. With Target Zero, Washington State became one of the first States in the United States to follow Vision Zero's idea to use zero as a goal for reducing roadway deaths.

Like Utah's Zero Fatalities program, WSDOT's Target Zero has formed partnerships to accomplish the program's goals. Stakeholder groups include combinations of Washington State agencies, local organizations, tribal nations, and Federal agencies.

"We really think zero is the right goal," says WSDOT State Traffic Engineer Ted Trepanier. "You can argue, 'Can we actually get to zero?' but at the end of the day, the only acceptable target is zero. Everybody recognizes this is a difficult goal. However, the target needs to be pointed at zero to aggressively drive the trend down."

Target Zero's primary focus is impaired drivers, seatbelts, and speed. Secondary emphases include younger and older drivers and aggressive driving.

Minnesota. Minnesota adopted Toward Zero Deaths (TZD) in 2004. The program is based on and integrated with the State's Strategic Highway Safety Plan. TZD is an interagency partnership led by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety and Department of Transportation (Mn/DOT), and it cooperates with the State Patrol, FHWA, Minnesota county engineers, the University of Minnesota's Center for Transportation Studies, and other State and local agencies.

"Toward Zero Deaths is the recognition that one fatality is too many," says Bernard J. Arseneau, director of Mn/DOT's Office of Traffic, Safety, and Operations. "We recognize that we are not going to get there tomorrow. Someday, though, I think it can be a reality. We need to demand and strive for zero deaths."

Minnesota's safety strategies focus on unbelted drivers, drunk driving, intersection crashes, single vehicles running off the road, speeding, drivers under the age of 21, head-on crashes, and sideswipes. Minnesota also places additional emphasis on addressing crashes that occur on local roads.

"If we are really trying to reduce fatalities, we need to eliminate the knock on the door [a police officer reporting to a family that a loved one was killed in a crash]," says Arseneau.

Early on, TZD set an interim goal of fewer than 500 fatalities by 2008. The program achieved that goal in 2006. By September 2008, the State was down more than 50 fatalities than in the same month the previous year.

TZD also holds an annual conference for traffic safety stakeholders, and more than 500 people attended in 2007. "The synergy developed through these partnerships has been great," says Arseneau. "If you have a good vision, people want to be a part of that and want to help on the journey—success breeds interest."

Others. The international Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development recently released a summary of its report Towards Zero: Ambitious Road Safety Targets and the Safe System Approach (www.internationaltransportforum.org/jtrc/safety/targets/08TargetsSummary.pdf), which reviews the state of the art in improving road safety performance and examines the role of targets in raising the level of ambition and achieving effective implementation of road safety policies. Based on this growing international experience and the U.S. precedents established by Minnesota, Utah, and Washington, many other States are considering moves to establish and implement zero fatalities programs.


Summer Clarke is coordinator of the Zero Fatalities program for public relations firm Penna Powers Brian Haynes (PPBH), which is a contractor for UDOT. She assists with various public relations and public involvement aspects of the program. Prior to joining PPBH, she worked in journalism, photography, and public relations for 10 years. She has written for the weekly Davis County Clipper and Utah's largest daily newspaper, The Salt Lake Tribune.

For more information, contact Summer Clarke at 801-487-4800 or sclarke@ppbh.com.

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