The "humans of Oslo" have reclaimed the streets from cars, with not one road-related death of a pedestrian, cyclist or child in 2019.
In a success that has inspired city planners and road safety experts, Oslo recorded only one road death, a motorist who crashed into a railing at a train station. Norway plans to reach "Vision Zero", and eliminate road-related deaths within four years and do more to reduce, and ultimately eliminate, serious injuries.
"This makes me happy," an Oslo council expert on road safety Anders Hartmann tweeted last week. "While we are making great progress, there is still a way to go to consistently keep deaths at zero for all road users."
In a first since WW II, not one child under 16 died on Norwegian roads in 2019.
Oslo's road fatality rate of 0.1 death per 100,000 people compares with 1.6 deaths per 100,000 people when compared to four Sydney local government areas, including the central business district, with the same total population.
The greater Sydney metropolitan area performed extremely well on international standards, reporting 1.9 fatalities per 100,000 people, outdoing Norway's national rate of 2.07 deaths per 100,000 people. Norway leads the world on road safety, said the Road Safety Annual Report 2019.
According to provisional figures provided by Transport for NSW for Sydney metro, population 4.8 million, there were 93 fatalities including 30 drivers, 29 pedestrians, 17 motorcyclists, 14 passengers and 3 pedal cyclists.
In contrast, NSW's rate is 4.8 per 100,000. Not one council in NSW, Victoria or the ACT has reported zero deaths every year from 2010 to 2018, according to a Federal Government road safety dashboard. Out of 537 Australian councils, only 19 – mostly the tiniest in Australia – had zero deaths.
After visiting Norway last year, NSW Road Transport Minister Andrew Constance said Olso approached road safety in a "very different way" with policies and campaigns that "worked'.
NSW's road toll, 358 in the year to November 2019, was "quite frankly ... an appalling statistic".
"The term 'one life lost is too many' is said frequently – but quite clearly the message isn't getting through," Mr Constance told the Committee for Economic Development of Australia in November. He "committed to doing everything I can to reduce our road toll and that means a different approach".
Mr Constance was impressed by Norwegian road safety advertisements. "Instead of the shock and awe tactics of crumpled cars .. " he said they thanked people "for paying attention on roads".
Between 2010 and 2017, Norway reduced road deaths by nearly 60 per cent compared with a nearly 10 per cent drop by Australia, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
Explaining its success, Oslo's mayor Raymond Johansen cited large investments in public transport, bicycle lanes and facilities for pedestrians. It had also reduced the speed limit for cars, removed 1000 parking spots, installed more speed bumps and created car-free zones, including "heart zones' where children play.
"It's all about humans taking back the streets from cars," Mr Johansen told Smart Cities "It is a win-win situation for our safety, our health, our quality of life and the environment.”
Previously most people in the safety community invested in the idea that safety work was about changing human behaviour," Matts-Åke Belin, a Swedish road safety expert, explained.
"Vision Zero says instead that people make mistakes ... let's create a system for the humans instead of trying to adjust the humans to the system." Its four pillars include: safer people; safer more forgiving roads, with rumble bars that alert a driver who wanders, for example; safer speeds in residential areas; and safer vehicles with technology such as autonomous emergency brakes which applies the brakes if it detects that the vehicle in front is too close.
An example of a safe road system is a roundabout. Compared to traffic lights at intersections, roundabouts increase the rate of crashes, but reduce the severity of injuries and deaths because collisions happen at much lower speeds.
In Parliament last year, the deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack acknowledged Australia had fallen short of its pledge to cut road deaths by 30 per cent by 2020, only reducing them by 15 per cent in some years.
He noted that "human error contributes to more than 90 per cent of all road accidents."
"A vision for zero might sound ambitious, but in aviation, mining and construction this is no longer a goal but an expectation," Mr McCormack said.
Using figures from Transport for NSW, the Herald compared Oslo – population 673,000 – with four local government areas of similar density in Sydney. They were Sydney, Inner West, Randwick and Willoughby. They reported 11 fatalities in 2019, including six pedestrians and a cyclist. No children died on the roads in these areas.
Bernard Carlon, the executive director for NSW's Centrefor Road Safety, said fatalities of young people and pedestrians had dropped significantly in 2019.
Drawing comparisons between Sydney and Oslo, with different transport systems, was very complex, he said. The dominance of vehicle travel – car ownership is nearly twice as high in Australia – presented different road safety challenges.
Lauchlan McIntosh, chairman of the non-profit group Towards Zero Foundation, said Oslo's result "reaffirms that zero fatalities are possible".
Long term success in Australia, though, required that a new scale of resources needed to be "applied to the disaster we fail to recognise overall – the 1300 deaths and more than 35000 serious injuries in Australia every year.”