Working every day to improve road safety

AXA/Marco Vara
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In 2019, the number of traffic fatalities in Switzerland was at a record low. For the first time, the number of victims killed on the roads was less than 200. Not least, these figures are a result of prevention work as carried out, among others, by the AXA Foundation for Prevention. Despite these encouraging figures, there is still much more to do, as Chairwoman of the Foundation Bettina Zahnd explains. 

Bettina, you have been Chairwoman of the AXA Foundation for Prevention since August 2018. Why do we need this type of foundation? 

Mobility is a key aspect of everyone’s life and an increasingly diverse range of road users share the same space. It is even more important that everyone encounters inherently safe conditions and knows what they have to do to ensure safe urban mobility. This is what the AXA Foundation for Prevention has been doing since 1973.

When I think of the Foundation, I think of Max the Badger. What is the significance of Max? 

For more than ten years, Max has been helping children feel safe in road traffic and teaching them where the dangers lurk. For example, they can use the MaxApp to practice their journey to nursery or school. He also makes adults aware of this important topic with poster campaigns.  

Children in road traffic is therefore a key issue for the Foundation. What else does it focus on? 

The second key issue is promoting research which can involve either a financial contribution or expert support from a member of the board of trustees. We think there is a great need for action in the area of future urban mobility: although the number of pedestrians and car drivers involved in accidents has declined, those involving e-bikers, for example, has increased. These are current challenges that researchers are looking into with the Foundation’s support. 

What type of projects does the Foundation support? 

The most important thing is that the subject of a project is right, i.e. making urban mobility safer in the future. Here we make sure that the planned research can also be implemented and that it actually improves road safety. But we also consider whether the idea is new and whether the research proposal is compatible with the Foundation. 

Can you give some specific examples?

A recently completed project dealt with failure to give way at pedestrian crossings. An investigation in the city of Zurich revealed that certain conditions led to more breaches than others: for example, if a sidewalk leads directly onto a pedestrian crossing without pedestrians having to change direction to cross the street, this all too often results in conflict situations. This fact will be taken into account in future planning. Rather unexpectedly, researchers also found that cyclists play a key role in conflict situations at pedestrian crossings. 

One project that we are currently promoting is the school journey project in the canton of Ticino: the University of Applied Sciences and Arts of Southern Switzerland (SUPSI) is looking into whether and how a digital learning program for children and an app for their parents can contribute to sustainable and safer mobility behavior by children and parents on the journey to school. The aim is to encourage more children to walk to school on their own.

«I can’t think of a more meaningful role than working to improve road safety every day..»

And what specific measures have been implemented in the last few years as a result of such projects?

In a project completed in 2015, the University of Zurich in collaboration with the city of Zurich tested the use of red cycle lanes - known as cycle boxes - in the center of the road before junctions. The trial showed that a cycle box increased road safety and was very popular with road users. Since then, the city of Zurich has increased the use of these cycle boxes. 

In another project supported by us, the RoadCross Foundation redesigned its prevention training in high schools and vocational colleges, as these represent a target group for prevention measures. Until now, training was mainly concentrated on car drivers. Together with prevention specialists and representatives of the target group, new and optimum methods were developed for reaching out to young adults. The second part of the project involves running and evaluating the redesigned courses.

Prevention training in high schools and vocational colleges (by RoadCross)

The Foundation is funded by AXA. Does this mean that AXA decides which projects receive support? 

The Foundation makes its decisions independently. Based on the Foundation's aim, the Board of Trustees decides which strategy to follow and which projects to implement. Four trustees work for AXA, three are external experts from the prevention sector. 

You are Head of Accident Research & Prevention at AXA. How are these two roles coordinated?

The issue of prevention is an important pillar at AXA. In my Accident Research & Prevention unit, we focus on accidents caused by insured vehicles and consequently ones that could also be prevented by them. The Foundation for Prevention has more flexibility in its choice of topics. The aim is to improve road safety for everyone so that as few people as possible have to suffer the consequences of traffic accidents.

What is your personal motivation for being involved in this area?

I can’t think of a more meaningful role than working to improve road safety every day. My daily motivation is that I can contribute towards reducing the pain of road traffic accidents.

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    Bettina Zahnd

    Bettina Zahnd runs the AXA Foundation for Prevention and is Chairwoman of the AXA Foundation for Prevention. In addition to her role within AXA, she represents the Swiss Insurance Association as Vice-chairwoman of the Board of Trustees of the Swiss Council for Accident Prevention (bfu), and is a member of the Administrative Commission of the Road Safety Fund. Bettina Zahnd began working in accident research at AXA in 2004 after studying physics at the University of Bern. In 2015, she was awarded the Joseph Ströbl Prize in Munich. Bettina Zahnd is married and has two children.

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