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|Federal Highway Administration > Publications > Public Roads > Vol. 71 · No. 6 > The Quest For Zero Fatalities|
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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