Norwegian traffic deaths approaching zero

New numbers from Statens Vegvesen (The Norwegian Public Roads Administration) show that road traffic deaths in Norway almost halved in June and July compared to the same period last year.

Which begs the question: Are traffic accidents in Norway about to be eradicated as a cause of death?

The preliminary numbers show that traffic deaths fell by 46 percent to 20 from 37 last summer (which was the highest number in the last five years):

  2017 2016 2015 2014 2013
June 12 15   9 18 16
July   8* 22 15 18 17
Total 20* 37 24 36 33

So far this year 57 lives have been lost in road traffic accidents, down from 84 in the first seven months of 2016.

If this trend continues 2017 may be the first year with less than 100 traffic deaths since 1947. According to the NPRA Norway has been ranked Europe’s best country for traffic safety with the lowest number of fatalities and the lowest risk of accidents for the second year running – (though they don’t specify by which agency).

(According to these numbers from the WHO several countries had lower road fatalities per 100.000 inhabitants per year than Norway (3,8) back in 2013, including Sweden (2,8), the UK (2,9), Denmark (3,5) and Spain (3,7).

While the NPRA report does not enquire into the causes of the decline in traffic fatalities, both the significant increase in infrastrucure spending started during the Stoltenberg government as well as strict enforcement of speed limits, including the proliferation of average speed controls over longer distances, may have explanatory power. The debate whether lower death numbers should mainly be attributed to better roads (with higher speed limits) or lower speeds are unlikely to be resolved anytime soon.

In any event, Norway is no at a point where the semi-Utopian vision of zero traffic deaths are within reach, (in theory at least), which certainly is feat worth celebrating.

However, there are trade-offs. What is the ideal number of traffic deaths in a society? 0? From a (coldly) utilitarian perspective the optimum number of traffic deaths in order to maximize societal (not individual) utility is probably above zero.

My anecdotal evidence suggests that average speed controls in Norway (over ~5-10km stretches) lead to significantly below limit speeds – with driving speeds below 60 km/h in 80 km/h zones for instance. Adding up for all drivers/passengers in the course of a year, that translates to substantial amounts of superfluous time spent/wasted in traffic.

The cost in terms of loss of economic activity is probably not insignificant. On a deeper more philosophical note it may be asked what a population driving along in 60 in 80 zones does to the long-term vitality of a nation?



Norwegian traffic deaths approaching zero

The Tragedy of Lofoten’s Tourism Commons

Quite a lot of Norway coverage in the FT this weekend.

And an excellent longer read by Nordic correspondent Richard Milne on the “Battle for Norway’s Soul,” over the controversial question if Norway should open up for oil exploration in Lofoten, Vesterålen and Senja (LoVeSe) or leave the hypothetical 1,3 billion barrels of oil untouched under the surface.

The article gives a good summary of the warring viewpoints in what is really a quadripartite conflict putting the interests of the oil industry, the fishing industry and the tourism sector against each other, while all three industries also face stiff resistance from the environmentalist movement.

I will not take sides in the oil question in this post, but only have some brief comments on the tourism question. The tourism sector in Northern Norway suffers from an obvious tragedy of the commons, with already very visible negative effects; high environmental costs yet low economic benefits.

  • There has without a doubt been quite a quality improvement in the Norwegian hospitality sector in recent years, with new accomodation and dining supply offering more than the typical Norwegian bare minimum service. Still, the high end of the Norwegian hospitality sector remains woefully underdeveloped. If Lofoten had been in Sweden and run by Swedes the region’s tourism income would probably have been twice as high, at least.
  • As the 80 year old artist/environmentalist Tor Esaissen sensibly points out Lofoten tourism cannot and should not be a mass market product. Even though it is in some way in conflict with egalitarian Norwegian values, Lofoten must be an expensive high-end tourism product. The product is based on its raw natural beauty. Too large tourist crowds will destroy that appeal.
  • The ideas of a tourist tax, maximum visitor quotas and/or minimum spending requirements are therefore radical but interesting, and worthy of serious consideration.
  • It obviously makes very little sense to have large numbers of camping tourists, who quite literally cover the landscape in shit, while leaving little money behind. The number of visitors allowed to camp in their cars or out in the open for free should be severly limited.
  • Norway must capitalise on the rising trend in avantgarde/explorer/“self realisation” tourism which generates high revenue per tourist while limiting the number of visitors. That is a way more sustainable route than continuing to let in hordes of visitors who spend minimal amounts of money. In order to achieve this there must of course be a product and service offering for visitors to spend money on, from high-end cruise travel, boutique hotels, experiences and exploration activities. In this domain the Norwegian hospitality sector probably still has much to learn from leading destinations, even though there has been a marked improvement in recent years.



The Tragedy of Lofoten’s Tourism Commons