Reducing road deaths slows down
Publication date: 14 November 2008
The FIA has been warning policy makers of a slowdown, and even a turnaround, in the reduction of road deaths. We asked Region 1 staffers to explain the story behind the statistics.
Earlier in the year, the FIA's research covering 2007 sent out a stark warning on road safety. Europe is ever more unlikely to reach its target of halving fatalities by 2010 if it does not urgently implement additional measures. Whilst over the past five years some countries have booked reductions of more than 25 per cent, the FIA warns of an increase in fatalities in various countries when compared to 2006. More recent figures released by the European Commission and other bodies confirm the misgivings.
Reducing road deaths appears to be slowing down or even turning around in some countries. According to the Commission's figures, Belgium, for instance, even saw a slight increase of 3% from 1069 deaths in 2006 to 1103 in 2007. Danny Smagghe, from Belgium club TCB, uses the word “stagnation” with respect to the number of deaths. “As soon as people see such figures in the press, then they start driving more carefully. But they quickly get used to media campaigns and police controls,” said Smagghe.
Recent campaigns and press coverage have just pushed the Belgian government into action on long-needed investment in infrastructure to tackle accident black spots. “Road safety not only needs more controls, but also investment in infrastructure,” said Smagghe. He puts down some of the increase in deaths, or at least the stagnation in reductions, as being due to motorcycles. “More and more people in Belgium are using motorcycles, whether for recreation or for getting to work,” Smagghe explained.
Niklas Fredriksson from the Swedish club Motormännens Riksförbund also sees a lack of focus on real investment in road safety. Sweden's “Mission Zero” set a goal in 1997 of 270 road deaths in 2007. The actual figure for 2007 was an appalling 471. The policy focus has mainly been on drivers' behaviour, perhaps because politicians see this as easier to tackle and as a cheaper investment. To be fair, Fredriksson points to increased traffic in Sweden. “When more people travel, there are more accidents. However, we still feel that infrastructure must be improved,” he added.
Sweden has also suffered from shifting goals and objectives. In 2008, the government decided on a new target of going down to 220 road deaths in 2020. “We do not believe this can be met without increased investment in roads,” warns Fredriksson. He also calls for children to have compulsory lessons on how to behave in traffic at school. As in other countries, younger men, aged 18 to 24, form a particularly high risk group. “They overestimate their driving capability,” said Fredriksson.
Andrew Howard from the UK's AA is more optimistic. He believes the UK is well on the way to getting the number of people seriously injured or killed down by 40%. "But we are clueless as to why the figures went down so suddenly," admitted Howard looking at statistics for 2007. "What completely amazed me is that drunken driving deaths fell by 100 people. We could not work out what had changed." This lack of clear indications as to what strategies and campaigns are working effectively, and why, may hamper further reductions according to Howard. The current UK government, still faring badly in opinion polls, may also shy away from taking difficult decisions such as cutting the drink drive limit and imposing passenger limits and curfews on new drivers. These changes have commonly been advocated by road safety campaigners. In the UK, new drivers not only account for one in five car deaths, but they are overrepresented in night time accidents when often carrying passengers.
Daniel Baumann from Swiss club TCS can also point to a substantial decrease to 370 road deaths in 2006. This compares with 409 road deaths in 2005. “This is also a major decrease from 510 in 2004,” noted Baumann. “So we are not that surprised at the slight increase in 2007. As for 2008, we are probably looking at stagnation.” Baumann appears critical of the length of time it has taken the government to agree on a package of 50 or so measures to tackle road safety. New measures include infrastructure projects tackling black spots, but also better training, teaching, and security services. “Cost is the main reason why discussions have taken so long,” said Baumann. He cites estimates of the total cost of car accidents in Switzerland ranging from EUR 4-8 billion per year. “A new road safety investment policy for the country would cost only EUR 200 to 300 million per year,” he said. Whilst Switzerland has made remarkable progress in reducing road deaths, it is stagnating with respect to serious injuries – at some 5200.
In October, the Forum for the Automobile and Society (FAS) debated the current stagnation in road safety improvements. The target of halving road deaths by fifty per cent by 2010 will not be met if efforts are not stepped up was the the conclusion. Chair of the FAS Road Safety Working Group, Wil Botman from the FIA European Bureau, underlined the importance of the automobile clubs' road safety work. Botman puts the stress on further developments and initiatives on driver education and training as well as road safety education and training. Botman also recognised the role road infrastructure should play in promoting road safety.
Given that human error exists, John Dawson of EuroRAP points to the main sources of improvement in reducing fatalities - as much as 30 per cent -coming from tackling the problems and risks posed by the road infrastructure itself. Speaking at the FAS debate, Dawson called for national programmes to assess the risk potential of their road networks rating the quality of all highways, urban and inter urban roads from one to five stars. “All member states should do their utmost to provide the necessary data to facilitate risk mapping and the eradication of one and two-star roads,” said Dawson.
For more information contact: Olivier Lenz