In the past month there have been several deadly collisions on highways in northeastern Ontario. But some road safety advocates believe it's possible to reach zero fatal crashes through changes to car and road design.

According to Neil Arason, the only acceptable number of deaths on the roads is zero.

Arason is a road safety expert based in British Columbia who has written a book called No Accident: Eliminating Injury and Death on Canadian Roads. He also supports a global movement called Vision Zero which explores ways to eliminate fatal and serious road collisions.


INTERACTIVE: When and where collisions happen on highways in the northeast


Even though crashes in North America have killed tens of thousands of people over the past decade, Arason said he doesn't believe road safety is a top priority.

Neil Arason

Neil Arason is the author of No Accident: Eliminating Injury and Death on Canadian Roads. (supplied)

"Part of it is we've just accepted that accidents just happen. So it's really the way we think," he said. 

"System designers have to design roads and vehicles so that everyday errors can occur without people being killed or injured."

Arason said some European countries, such as Sweden, are now designing roads with safety as the number one priority, with impressive results. 

He also points to measures such as collision avoidance systems in cars and transport trucks as a step in the right direction, but questions why they are not mandatory in all vehicles now that the technology exists.

'Likely to be alive'

For Ron Henderson of Sudbury, safer road design includes more four-lane highways in the north. 

His sister Kelly and her two sons died in a collision on Highway 69, south of Sudbury, in 2002.

After the tragedy, Henderson was part of a campaign to improve safety on the highway by making them wider.

Ron Henderson

Ron Henderson's sister Kelly and her twin boys were killed in a collision on Highway 69 south of Sudbury. He was part of a campaign to have the stretch four-laned. (Megan Thomas/CBC)

"I often think that Kelly and the boys would have been alive today — would more than likely be alive today — if that four-lane highway had been built at the time," he said.

The Highway 69 project is pegged at about $10 million per kilometre, plus millions of dollars more to put in required the interchanges.

People may think it's too expensive to upgrade and change highways, Arason said. But billions of dollars a year are also being spent responding to collisions — everything from police investigations to health care costs to tow trucks.