Toward Zero, A Failed Goal

by Dr Rob Long on December 27, 2016

in Psychology of Safety and Risk,Road Safety,Robert Long,Zero Harm

Toward Zero, A Failed Goal

imageGenerally when people set goals that fail, they reassess their goal and reframe the goal and seek a goal that is achievable and sense-able. This is the logic of SMART goals (,, ). Generally, people who set goals consider the psychological by-products of that goal, to make sure that the goal itself doesn’t drive counter-intuitive behaviours. No so for our binary road safety policy makers. Using their own measure of success – statistics, it is clear that the Toward Zero discourse is a miserable failure.

Recently we learned that the statistics for road fatalities is increasing not decreasing, despite record expenditure on road safety and resourcing.

What is most interesting is that this spike in road fatalities coincides with the nonsense binary language of Toward Zero being implemented in several states. I wonder if any of the policy makers looking through their own lens of statistics have decided that the nonsense goal of zero actually ‘primes’ the opposite behavior. I wonder if the nonsense binary logic of Toward Zero and Vision Zero is being questioned, doubt it. One thing is most certain. When one commits religiously to a fundamentalist ideology, the last thing one questions is the ideology, regardless of its miserable failure. When using numeric to judge validity, it is only the road safety policy makers who make an exception to their own rule. What you do is keep throwing more money at the problem, not reconsider ones religious commitment.

Just read these articles and listen to the binary logic by policy makers, ‘All deaths are preventable’. Of course, that’s like saying ‘all youths are adolescent’. It’s just as silly as ‘safety is a choice you make’ or ‘how many people do you want killed today’. Or, in the Toward Zero ad, ‘What number is an acceptable number?’ Unfortunately, safety is a wicked problem ( not a binary problem and all this binary logic and binary ideology does is numb the population to more mature and sophisticated messages about risk. If it’s about raw numbers, then zero has been failing miserably for 5 years. Of course no-one wants people killed on the roads but the response doesn’t have to be zero. When we escape the nonsense of binary logic then we might be able to set more meaningful goals for the population.

I have been writing about zero for years ( ). How zero language and binary goals have hidden trade-off and by-products that manufacture counter-intuitive outcomes. It is only when one considers the social-psychological nature of higher order goal setting (non-measureable) that one learns just how pathetic lower-order goals (measureable) are and how they de-motivate a population.

If you are interested in the psychological counter productive by-products of zero discourse there are many article here:

If you want to know why people are attracted to zero through binary logic then read here:

So, will there be any change soon. Not likely. The last thing religious commitment to an ideology does is admit that it is wrong. Zero is not a number to those in love with zero, it’s a philosophy ( ). It just happens to be a philosophy that doesn’t work.

Dr Rob Long

Dr Rob Long

Expert in Social Psychology, Principal & Trainer at Human Dymensions
Dr Rob Long
PhD., MEd., MOH., BEd., BTh., Dip T., Dip Min., Cert IV TAA, MRMIA Rob is the founder of Human Dymensions and has extensive experience, qualifications and expertise across a range of sectors including government, education, corporate, industry and community sectors over 30 years. Rob has worked at all levels of the education and training sector including serving on various post graduate executive, post graduate supervision, post graduate course design and implementation programs.

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