Herman De Croo knows a lot about the world of transport. And also the world of politics, Europe, and the nation States. He is Belgian, and has been a member of Parliament and a Minister, former Speaker of the House of Representatives, and Minister of Transport and Communications several times over, and for years he has dealt with the problems of traffic and road safety from a privileged point of view: Brussels, the home of the European institutions and natural crossroads of an entire continent. Now, as president of the Governing Council of the European Transport Safety Council (ETSC), he coordinates analyses and interventions to support the battle for transport safety. And therefore, first and foremost, road safety. Roads effectively remain the number one problem in terms of safety, with 25,845 deaths and 203,550 serious injuries in the EU-28 countries in 2014. There were only 0.6% fewer deaths than in 2013, while the number of injured has even begun to increase again (3%), prompting the European Parliament to reiterate its request to the EU to set a challenging reduction target for all countries.
There are certainly different causes underlying this trend, an improvement that seems to have diminished and taken a turn for the worse. But according to Herman De Croo and the ETSC, the main reason is quite obvious: the choice of many member countries to divert their resources away from the policies for road safety.
According to the 9th Annual Road Safety Performance Index (PIN) Report by ESTC, in 2014 there was the worst annual reduction in EU road deaths since 2001, and now the EU target to halve deaths by 2020 is at risk. Why has this happened?
The figures for 2014 are a wake-up call. Although there is no single factor that explains the poor results, there is no doubt that part of the story can be explained by the deprioritization of road safety in some countries. Budgets for enforcement have been cut, targets have been dropped – and we are now seeing the effect of these decisions. An improvement of the economic situation in some countries may also play a role, since increased economic activity often leads to increases in driving. These are challenges that countries need to address.
Which European countries are the safest in terms of road deaths and serious injuries?
Sweden and the United Kingdom are the frontrunners in the EU road safety league, with less than 30 road deaths per million inhabitants, compared to an average of 51. However, since 2010 the progress in reducing deaths in the UK has slowed down dramatically while in Sweden it has reversed. These results are alarming and require immediate attention.
What countries have had the best results in reducing the number of deaths, and concerning road safety improvement in general?
Since the introduction of the second EU target to halve the number of road deaths by 2020 compared to the 2010 levels, the EU countries that have been the quickest to reduce the number of people killed on roads are Greece, Portugal, and Spain. Spanish road safety performance is closely related to a set of comprehensive measures, including the introduction of a penalty point system, the adoption of an extensive safety camera network, and the introduction of stricter sanctions for traffic offenses. Portugal has introduced a lower BAC limit for professional and novice drivers and launched several road safety campaigns. Reductions in the number of road deaths in Greece are related to the economic downturn which has affected traffic volumes and patterns, and it has also been observed that user behavior is improving, the number of drivers going above the speed limit has decreased, and the rates of seat belts and helmets being worn has grown following the awareness-raising campaigns and improved enforcement.
Are alcohol and high speed the most common reasons for road accidents in EU? How can their impact be reduced?
Drunk driving (or DUI, driving under the influence) and speeding are widespread. Speeding is a primary factor in about one-third of fatal collisions while drunk driving is linked to around one-quarter of all road deaths. These problems can be addressed with more effective enforcement and target-setting. But technology can also play a role.
Drunk driving can be addressed by installing alcohol ignition interlocks in all commercial vehicles and also requiring drunken drivers who have had a conviction to install them as a part of their rehabilitation programs. The devices can be connected to the vehicle’s ignition system and require the driver to take a breathalyzer test in order to drive the vehicle. If the driver is found with a blood alcohol reading above the legal BAC limit, the engine will not start. They have proven to be an effective measure in the fight against drunk driving. For example after the introduction of alcohol ignition interlocks in Finland, drunk driving re-offense rates dropped from 30% to 6%.
Intelligent Speed Assistance (ISA) is a very promising technology for helping to reduce speeding. The system uses a database of speed limits combined with GPS technology to alert drivers to the current speed limit and help them to stay within it. ETSC is calling for an overriding form of the technology to be installed as standard on new vehicles. Such a move could lead to a 20% reduction of deaths.
What are the most interesting technical solutions for reducing road risk?
I would like to highlight two other areas where technology could help. Despite seat belt laws across the EU, a significant number of people still fail to buckle up. Seat belt use in cars is estimated to be only 88% in the front seats and as low as 74% for the rear seats in the EU countries that are monitoring their use. ETSC would like to see seat belt reminder systems fitted in all passenger seats. This simple measure could prevent 900 deaths a year.
Another very promising technology is Automated Emergency Braking. Many collisions occur due to the driver’s failure to brake or applying the brakes too late. Autonomous Emergency Braking systems can help avoid crashes or mitigate their severity by warning the driver and supporting their braking response or even by applying the brakes independently from the driver when an obstacle is detected.
by Paolo Piacenza
(Abstract from Autostrade per l'Italia's Magazine "Agorà")