Road Safety Lessons from Norway – Introduction

Road safety lessons from Norway?  Are you asking yourself:  “Why Norway?”  If so, the answers — those that are visible to anyone that looks — are a revelation.

A motorhome / RV / camper van on top of one of the bridges on the Atlantic Road, in Norway.
Beautiful, sweeping bridges (two-way traffic) over a series of inlets on the evocatively-named ‘Atlantic Road’, on a stormy day, south west of Trondheim. And as suggested by the RV at the top of this bridge, Norway is a touring paradise.   (Copyright image, 2019.)

After perhaps forty or more years, during which for the most part the UK and Sweden alone vied with each year for being the safest developed countries worldwide in terms of minimizing road deaths, other countries have now started emulating the Brits and the Swedes, and on the most recent figures [2018 report], Norway is currently monarch of the world in this respect…. Good reason to pay great attention to what Norway had been doing to achieve this exalted and thoroughly life-saving result. Sadly, by comparison, the USA performs poorly.

Rural roads have very conservative speed limits. The figure of ’60’ here is kilometres so it is 37mph. (Copyright image.)

Let me make it very clear, though, that this was not any sort of official road safety trip, this was my wife and I having a fabulous ‘bucket list’ vacation.  However, given my background, I was unable not to look at Norway’s methods and technology as we drove by it all on our >2,500-mile (4,000km) road trip, yet even this was hard to do, given the distractingly beautiful scenery, fabulous wildlife and wonderful people we encountered, en-route.

Admittedly, our rental car was not Norwegian, it was Swedish, but that’s right next door and the Scandinavian engineering of our all-wheel-drive Volvo V90 T8R station wagon was superb.

Volvo V90 T8R AWD station wagon / estate car, on the Lofoten Islands, Norway.
Time to get the hiking boots on! A flat slab of rock on the Lofoten Islands provides a parking space for our excellent Viking chariot, an all-wheel drive Volvo V90 T8R. (Copyright image, 2019.)

Make no mistake, Norway is an amazingly long country, north to south, albeit very narrow from west to east.  It’s land boundary, alone, on the east side of the country, is 1,581 miles long, and almost half the length of the country is within the Arctic Circle.  The coastline of this incredibly indented country measures 17,991 miles, but add the islands and this becomes a stunning 62,706 miles.  So our three-week trip was only able to scratch the surface of this beautiful place.

The reason for mentioning the scenery and size of the country, however, is that rural roads are commonly if not always the most dangerous roads in any country in terms of the number and proportion of crash deaths that occur on such each year, and Norway has rural roads in huge abundance, with significant numbers of self-driving tourists to be added to the mix.  Indeed, many of the roads were sufficiently narrow not to even have center-lines, although with care there was enough room for opposing vehicles to get by.

Central guardrail / crash barrier on a rural road -- a Swedish road safety innovation.
This excellent feature for busy rural roads originated in Sweden,   A solid barrier is placed, without a raised median, between opposing traffic.   Often there are two lanes in one direction and one in the other, but this alternates from one side to the other periodically, to permit overtaking.   The result?   No deadly head-on collisions… a major safety improvement.   (Copyright image, 2019.)

It is planned that the following, relevant Norwegian safety issues, wherever linked (hopefully soon!), will be the subject of separate posts in order to keep the length of each post reasonable:

  • Road markings were sometimes mediocre but road signs were good;
  • Speed limits were very modest and speeding appeared rare;
  • We witnessed no aggressive driving or road rage;
  • Cyclists, scooterists and even skateboarders were not only common but placidly tolerated on city roads;
  • The blood-alcohol [BAC] limit, as in Sweden, is 0.02 percent (but only to allow for medications) and this is emphatically not a place to drink and drive at all!

However, from everything I saw during an actively observant, three-week trip, it became my opinion that the key feature in Norway’s excellent road safety achievements is quite possibly the attitude of road users — in other words, the national road safety culture.

Am I correct?  I cannot say for sure.  Of course there inevitably will be unsafe behaviour from some individuals at times, no country is a driving utopia, but to a much greater extent than usual, people’s actions appeared calm and purposefully safe.  And that was so nice to see.


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