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Why does Sweden have some of the safest streets in the world?

STOCKHOLM, Sweden -- It's a tale of two cities, Portland and Stockholm.


They are roughly the same size. But in Portland, six times as many people die on the road. I flew from Portland to Stockholm to find out why.


In Stockholm, Matts Belin with the Swedish Transport Administration said Sweden decided, about 20 years ago, to change its path and keep more people alive. He said in Sweden, road engineers plan ahead for human mistakes.


"So, the concept is, design something so when people have accidents, they will not kill each other?" I asked.


"Exactly," he replied.


He gave the roundabout as an example. It is safer than a traditional intersection with a traffic light, he said.


"If you have a roundabout, the crashes might increase a little bit because it's more difficult to drive in a roundabout," Belin said. "But those that will happen will be less severe. And the traffic light and the roundabout might actually be the difference between life and death."


He said Sweden also lowered speed limits, so if there is a crash, you have a higher chance of surviving. The limit is 30 kph - about 20 mph - on many roads in Stockholm, and 20 kph - about 12 mph - in work zones.


There are also radar signs that show your speed as you drive, in green lights if you are driving at or below the limit, in red lights if you are driving over the limit.


"It's a reminder for them that they should slow down," said Maria Persson, who lives in the Swedish town of Malmo.


She said she prefers to go by bike, but sees that the signs have an impact on drivers.


"If they drive over what is permitted, then it's going to turn red, really big," Persson said. "So, it's quite embarrassing for them."


If the speed signs are not enough, Sweden has speed cameras that automatically give you a ticket if you go over the limit.


"I got caught," said a Uber driver named Claes in Stockholm. "It's very expensive."


He said he was driving just 6 kph - about 3 mph- over the limit, and ended up paying a fine of about $300. He said it changed his driving behavior.


Just like Ikea, Sweden's roads are often neat and efficient. They often have separate lanes for people on foot, people on bikes and people in cars. The bike lanes are very well-marked in some areas, sometimes with a curb, or even a metal barrier, separating you from cars.


READ MORE: Air bag for your head? Swedish co.'s alternative to helmets


The cars will hit the barrier first, instead of you. Belin said Sweden has put in cable barriers on highways that can stop out-of-control cars and have cut highway deaths by up to 90%.


In Portland, you see case after case of people dying on the roads. But in Stockholm? I asked people on the street.


"I never heard about anyone getting hit by a car or bike in Stockholm," said Jonas Carlmark, who lives in the city.


Sweden calls its plan Vision Zero. Portland has already started making changes for its own Vision Zero, including a plan for automatic speed cameras to go up on Portland's busiest roads next year, like Sandy Boulevard, 82nd Avenue, Division and Barbur Boulevard.


People here said they were glad to share Sweden's success with Portland, half a world away.


"I definitely think it saves lives," said Persson.


"For humans around the world, I think it's great that this kind of knowledge is actually spreading, so others can take part in this knowledge," said Belin.

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