Sweden has dramatically reduced traffic-accident deaths. Can it stop people from killing themselves?
Can Sweden eliminate suicide?
By Nathalie Rothschild
Source: The Atlantic
Road safety: It’s become one of Sweden’s most successful exports—right up there with flat-pack furniture and affordable fashion. Back in 1997, the Swedish parliament adopted a policy known as “Vision Zero,” premised on the idea that traffic deaths and serious car accidents are unacceptable and that the state should go to great lengths to help citizens avoid them. Today, the approach has been embraced everywhere from the European Union to New York City and San Jose. Just in recent weeks, Qatar hosted a vision-zero conference and Singapore unveiled a vision-zero campaign for the workplace.
There’s a logic behind this imitation. Sweden has engineered one of the world’s lowest traffic-related fatality rates thanks to educational campaigns, new vehicle technology, surveillance systems, and infrastructural innovations, including pedestrian bridges and bike-lane barriers. Fewer than three out of every 100,000 Swedes die in road accidents each year, compared with more than 11 in the United States. As The Economist noted about Sweden last year, “Although the number of cars in circulation and the number of miles driven have both doubled since 1970, the number of road deaths has fallen by four-fifths during the same period.”
But in Sweden, Vision Zero thinking—the idea of aiming for a society free from serious accidents and for systems “designed to protect us at every turn”—has also come to permeate spheres far beyond roads and traffic. This year alone, demands for similar initiatives have come from the Swedish Life Rescuers’ Association(whose members want a Vision Zero approach to drowning accidents), the National Association of Pensioners (a Vision Zero scheme to prevent falls among the elderly), and a coalition of construction workers’ associations and unions (a Vision Zero plan to eliminate construction-site accidents). Sweden’s minister for employment recently vowed to develop a Vision Zero program to eliminate fatal accidents at Swedish workplaces because “nobody should have to die on the job.” And in February, Ebba Busch Thor, the current leader of Sweden’s Christian Democrat Party, called for a Vision Zero approach to abortion.
The healthcare sector is not immune. In 2008, Sweden’s then center-right coalition government announced a Vision Zero approach to suicide prevention. “No one should have to end up in such a vulnerable situation where the only perceived way out is suicide,” the plan stated. “The government’s vision is that no one should have to take their own life.” The government summarized the national campaign in a nine-point program with broad strategies like reducing “alcohol consumption in the general population and in high-risk groups” and harnessing “medical, psychological, and psychosocial measures.” These strategies have had some concrete effects. For instance, the goal of “reducing access to means and methods for committing suicide” has altered Swedish cityscapes, leading to initiatives like mounting fences along bridges to discourage people from jumping off of them.