According to the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten (translation here), in 1975, 41 people died in traffic crashes in Oslo, but in 2019 only one person, a car driver, suffered that fate. And the number of pedestrians and cyclists killed in the city in 2019? …… Zero!
We were fortunate enough to spend three weeks on a 2500-mile road trip up the full length of Norway, in May and June 2019, but although the main purpose was a vacation, I simply could not make the trip without looking as closely as time permitted at the excellent standards of road safety the people of this beautiful country, have achieved.
A few days in Oslo gave us time to have a good look around the city, too.
In cities where proper pedestrian zones don’t yet exist, many store owners worry that taking away vehicles will take away trade, but we have yet to hear of anywhere this has actually happened. The opposite case — of more business, not less — is the norm.
While we did see some unwise behaviour by vulnerable road users [VRU] on the actual traffic streets, one thing that was very noticeable was a distinct lack of annoyed responses. I’m certainly not claiming that there are no lost tempers on Norway’s roads — that would seem very unlikely anywhere — but it appeared to be considerably less common than in many other countries.
Quite a few skateboarders and scooter riders also joined in with the heavier traffic but between the low speed limits and the apparently benevolent or at least tolerant ‘road safety culture’ in Norway, we once again saw no angry or impatient responses from drivers.
Sadly, this key point does seem to be lost on some traffic safety protagonists: the fact that nurturing a better attitude is very important in achieving excellent results, as Norway so clearly has. And this is down to both Education and Enforcement — two of the sacred “E’s” of road safety.
For pedestrians, crosswalks over multiple lanes typically had at least one and often two safety ‘islands’ where people could wait ‘in the middle’ until traffic had cleared or stopped, for the next stage. (From the American perspective, such islands are absurdly rare in the USA, where — except in a few enlightened cities — unimpeded traffic flow is still murderously allowed to be the ‘king of the road’.)
Impatience by pedestrians can also lead to critical incidents, so in places Norway has followed Britain’s long-term lead in also using fencing to oblige people on foot to actually use the crosswalks. (The only difference is that in Britain vertical rails are used in the fences to make it hard if not impossible for really impatient individuals to climb over them. Horizontal rails are obviously much easier to climb.)
There were plenty of cyclists in the city, too, and they fully used the lanes they were riding in — not being pushed into the edge of the road by unreasonable drivers. And some, though not all, of the cyclists had done their bit to be safer, too, both in terms of helmets and conspicuity.
The police vehicles were ultra-conspicuous, too — always a good thing for reinforcing the rules of the road.
Another key feature in cutting urban deaths is good public transport. Oslo has an excellent network of buses and trams.
Roundabouts were common in Oslo and many parts of Norway, although perhaps too often they did not have layout or ‘map’ signs to give advanced warning to drivers about which exit they would need. In addition, the ‘yield’ (‘give way’) lines were often surprisingly worn out, despite their clear importance. This is another area where Norway appeared to be behind the UK, the country where so-called ‘modern roundabouts’ were invented, back in the 1960s.
Incidentally, I am unabashed in making the two comments above about the UK because, along with Sweden, Britain has been a very long-term leader in having the lowest road death rates in the world. Any wise nation wanting to improve its road safety would be very well advised to look hard and to cherry-pick techniques and methods, both from long-term and more-recent leaders in this field.
So what are my ‘take-aways’ from our good look at Norway’s roads and people — bearing in mind that this was only an unofficial viewing?
To me, two things stood out:
Firstly, there is clearly some excellent leadership and determination among Norway’s road safety professionals and politicians — the low speed limits being just one excellent example of this;
And secondly, as I mentioned earlier, the attitude of the people seemed very conducive indeed to more tolerance and less of a selfish rush.