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Why did road traffic deaths increase in Sweden this year?

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Why did road traffic deaths increase in Sweden this year?
However, there's been an overall drop in road traffic deaths in the past decade. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT
11:38 CET+01:00
2018 has been a particularly deadly year on Swedish roads, with more road traffic deaths than any year since 2009.

In month of November alone, 37 people died and a further 1,437 were injured in traffic accidents, making it the deadliest November on the roads since 2003.

Altogether in the first 11 months of 2018, a total of 287 died in road accidents, figures from the Swedish Transport Agency (Transportstyrelsen) show. That's a significant increase from the whole of the previous year, when 224 people died.

In 1997, Sweden introduced a road safety policy named Vision Zero with the long-term aim of cutting fatal accidents to zero by 2020. The target was that by 2007, there would be no more than 270 road traffic deaths, but this target wasn't reached, with almost 500 people dying that year.

However, there has been an overall drop in road traffic deaths over the past decade, with the figure for 2013 and 2015 the lowest since the Second World War.

Part of the reason for the recent rise is that once you reach a certain point, it becomes harder and more costly to make further significant changes – and there is an element of chance. A third of road deaths are estimated to occur because of a driver falling ill, which cannot always be predicted or prevented. Earlier this year, the Transport Authority increased the 'value' of road safety in Sweden, meaning that they judged it cost more money to prevent each additional death.

But there have also been changes in motorist behaviour, as well as fewer police checks on the road. 

"We have seen traffic flow increase this year. It also increased last year, but now we have more trucks and it is a big group of accidents," Khabat Amin, statistics officer at the Transport Agency, told the TT newswire.

According to Amin, the unusually warm summer weather also increased the number of motorists on the roads and therefore may have contributed to the accident rate. 

So what can be done to tackle the rise in fatal accidents?

It's possible that increasing the numbers of police officers out on the roads might make drivers more careful, less likely to speed, and even less likely to go on the roads at all if under the influence of alcohol or without a valid licence. Since 2012, checks on both vehicle speed and drivers' sobriety have been reduced.

"It is clear that the fact there are fewer checks has had an impact," police officer Tony Härdin, who is responsible for traffic-related issues, said to TT.

He said that the reasons such road checks have been reduced include high workload for police in general, specifically following a reorganization in 2015 in which responsibility for traffic checks shifted from a dedicated unit of traffic police to municipal police officers.

He also highlighted other areas where the workload had increased. "For example, we have had more to do with migration, which is something that took resources from all over the country. Then we have had an increase in violent crime and more intense work in vulnerable areas," he explained.

The period before Christmas, between December 20th and 23rd, typically sees a lot of people using Sweden's roads and often in icy conditions. The road accident rate often increases during this time, and the Transport Authority urged those who would be driving on these days to take extra road safety precautions.

READ ALSO: Essential winter driving tips to stay safe on Sweden's roads

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Daniel - 21 Dec 2018 00:48
Police officers making random traffic stops or speed stops seems like more of a jobs program than a serious proposal for road safety. Why can't cameras be used for unsafe speeding and for unsafe maneuvers at intersections? Those are top causes of deaths and small fines applied on every violation has been shown to work much better than large fines applied haphazardly by the police. With drunk and tired drivers we obviously still need police to intervene, but again cameras could be used to detect poor lane discipline. This could even help when the driver is blameless, but having a medical episode.
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