Road safety NGO: EU must do more to reduce road accidents

In an interview with euractiv.com, European Transport Safety Council Executive Director Jörg Beckmann urges more political leadership to enforce existing road-safety measures, especially across borders, and to introduce “crucial” new technologies, in order to reduce the number of accidents on European roads.

What do you think of the progress that has been made since the adoption of the 3rd road safety action plan? 

Member states have pledged to cut annual road deaths by 50% between 2001 and 2010. The mid-term review of the 3rd road safety action programme, which was released by the European Commission at the beginning of this year, revealed that traffic deaths in the EU have dropped by 17-18%. With less than four years to go, the chances of the EU achieving its target are slim. In the meantime, there are still too many deaths and injuries on European roads that could be avoided if all countries implemented some of the most crucial and well-known measures. 

What are the main measures that can explain why some countries have been more successful than others?

Information gathered by ETSC’s experts show that countries that progressed most quickly achieved this through the following factors: strong political leadership (President Chirac in France declaring the “fight against road violence” in 2002), the raise in checks of traffic safety-law compliance (eg: the introduction of fully automated speed cameras or the increase in severity of penalties), increase in public awareness, or the improvement of the infrastructure (eg. low-cost traffic-calming measures in Portugal). 

Is there anything more the EU can do to accelerate progress on decreasing the number of road fatalities? Have all the options been taken into account in the mid-term review of the road safety action plan? What are your main recommendations and how could these affect the number of road-accident deaths?

The European Union can play a crucial role in accelerating the progress in road safety by encouraging the widespread adoption of high safety standards. In recent years, ETSC has been carefully monitoring progress made by member states in the different areas of road safety. We hope that best practices will rapidly spread but also expect the EU to adopt some more stringent measures particularly, in the following fields: 

  • Cross-border enforcement: there is evidence from various member states that drivers flout traffic laws when travelling abroad as they do not fear punishment. The problem is particularly important in countries that use automatic speed-enforcement systems. ETSC advocates the adoption of a cross-border enforcement directive to improve this situation in addition to harmonised and high standards in the areas of enforcement of speeding, drink-driving and seat belt use; 
  • infrastructure: ETSC urges the European Commission to table a directive on road infrastructure safety without delay. This directive should introduce defined and harmonised common infrastructure safety management standards in member states for road safety impact assessment, “high risk sites”, road safety inspections and road safety audits;
  • daytime running-lights: ETSC is in favour of mandatory requirements of daytime running lights, as this would increase the perception of cars by all road users. It would also reduce the number of multi-party daytime accidents involving motorcyclists, and; 
  • retro-fitting of blind-spot mirrors: ETSC estimates that the benefits of retro-fitting lateral blind-spot mirrors to existing goods vehicles over 3.5 tonnes would outweigh the costs by four. 

Can you tell us more about the Intelligent Speed Assistance (ISA) technologies supported by the ETSC?

Illegal and inappropriate speed is the single biggest contributory factor in fatal road crashes. It increases both the risk of a crash and the severity of resulting injuries. Managing speed is therefore the most important measure to reduce death and injury on our roads. And ISA is a robust, simple and reliable technology to achieve this objective. 

Research has shown that advisory ISA can achieve an 18% reduction, and non-overridable intervening ISA a 37% reduction in fatal accidents in the UK. In other EU countries, up to 50% of traffic deaths could be avoided if all cars were equipped with supportive ISA. 

However, without EU-level support, we will not realise this full potential to reduce by more than a third the total number of yearly EU road deaths. 

What are the main resistances you encounter from different sectors/associations/governments to imposing stricter safety rules and standards?

Unfortunately, we observe that existing technologies and policies with the largest life-saving potential are not always given the top priority by policymakers. In order to maximise the safety benefits gained from new vehicle technology, the focus should be both on innovation and implementation. Seat belt reminders, alcohol interlocks, intelligent speed assistance (ISA) offer the greatest safety potential. But these technologies need efforts from policymakers to ensure their rapid application. 

In the short-term, enforcement and awareness will bring the quickest results in reducing road deaths. In combination, they can result in a total annual reduction of 14,000 road deaths and 680,000 injuries in the EU. 

Following the mid-term review on the 3rd Road Safety Action Programme, it is important that the European Commission and member states realise that they have only four years more to translate good intentions on paper into successful interventions on the road. The targets already set by member states are challenging and achievable, whether countries are frontrunner or laggards. Member states therefore have to pursue their effort as they could still do much more. More than sharing responsibility, member states and the European Commission should “take” their responsibilities. 

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