European Commission targets road safety

In the year 2005, 41,600 people died in road traffic accidents in the European Union. Some 1.9 million people were injured, some of them severely.

jacques barrot 88 298 (photo credit: Bloomberg)
jacques barrot 88 298
(photo credit: Bloomberg)
In the year 2005, 41,600 people died in road traffic accidents in the European Union. Some 1.9 million people were injured, some of them severely. The economic damages generated by traffic accidents were estimated at €200 billion, corresponding to approximately 2 percent of the European Union's Gross National Product. Over 40,000 road traffic fatalities occur per year - this is equivalent to over 300 fatal air crashes involving medium-range aircraft. According to statistics, one out of three people will be injured in a traffic accident at some point in their lives. Up to the age of 55, traffic accidents are the most common causes of hospitalization. In fact, the dangers of road traffic are all-pervasive and should concern everyone in Europe, in Israel and all over the world. The Commission's European Road Safety Action Plan, launched in 2001, aims to halve the number of fatalities on Europe's roads over the period 2001-2010, reducing the total number of estimated deaths from almost 50,000 to 25,000. The latest figures, released last week, show that the last 12 months have seen an 8% reduction in fatalities. In 2006, nearly 12,000 less people died in the European Union in comparison with 2001. "Thanks to the concerted efforts of the European Union we can reach our target in 2010, provided we stay on course. There is no guarantee of this, however, so we need to maintain our efforts," said Commission Vice-President and Transport Commissioner Jacques Barrot, who reiterated that road safety was a priority of his mandate. Mr. Barrot called on all Member States to study the report that has just been published on the subject by the European Commission and to draw the necessary lessons from it. "Above all, I urge Member State governments whose figures are alarming to take firm action," he added. Looking beyond bald figures and statistics on the number of road accident victims, it is essential to be able to evaluate the performance of countries by means of carefully chosen indicators. Such indicators point to the actual impact of policies and make it possible to assess the way specific problems are dealt with. It should be stated, however, that crude numbers of road accident victims, even broken down through various parameters, are difficult to compare regarding road safety risk levels between the countries. Moreover, road accident data are imperfect indicators of the road safety situation in a country. As part of its strategy to halve the number of road accident victims by 2010, the European Commission last week organized April 27 as the first European Road Safety Day. This year, the Day - which is scheduled to be an annual event - was dedicated to young drivers: "Youth on the Road, Road Safety is no Accident." For this occasion, the Commission published for the first time the results of the "SafetyNet" project, financed under the 6th Research Framework Program. The project has laid the foundation for a European Road Safety Observatory, and has produced important research on performance indicators for road safety.* The report focuses on seven road safety performance indicators: alcohol and drug use; speed; seat belts and helmets; the use of daytime running lights; passive safety of vehicles; road infrastructure; first aid for victims. The first three indicators are both the most important and the best documented. The results from the countries it covers vary greatly. For example: 5% to 30% of road deaths result from accidents involving at least one driver over the legal alcohol limit; up to 50% of drivers do not observe speed limits; 67% to 97% of occupants of cars or light vans wear front-seat belts, but only 28% to 89% do so in the back; 20% to 96% of children below the age of 12 use child seats. Although the protection offered by vehicles (passive safety) is improving from year to year, it is striking to note that the gap between the countries with the best results and those with the worst has not shrunk. The European Commission reported that the main aim of the Road Safety Day is to provide young Europeans with an opportunity to explain their commitment to others in the field of road safety. Young people in the European Union, particularly those aged between 18 and 25, account for more than their fair share of road accident victims. Saving their lives will mean tackling many problems that are often of concern to society as a whole, such as education, training, the acquisition of know-how and the temptations offered by alcohol and drugs. Over 400 participants from some 35 countries in Europe and elsewhere took part in this conference, which was held at the end of the first Global Road Safety Week, itself focusing on young road users. The report is available on the "road safety" page of the Europa Internet Web site at: The author is the head of the International Department at the Joseph Shem-Tov law firm.