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):
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?