Road safety performance - Europe falters...
For all of us working in the road safety field in Europe, it’s easy to be pessimistic in 2017. For the last three years progress on reducing deaths and serious injuries has been at a standstill.
Executive Director, ETSC
Driver / rider behaviour, infrastructure, vehicle safety, enforcement, education – all are important in reducing risks.
While the situation varies across the continent, and despite positive developments in countries as diverse as Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Lithuania and Switzerland, the overall picture of stagnation is not reassuring. 500 deaths a week in Europe can never be an acceptable figure.
There has been progress over a longer time frame. Since 2010 road deaths in the EU28 were cut by 19%, equivalent to a 3.4% average annual reduction. But a 6.7% year-to-year reduction was needed over the 2010-2020 period to reach the EU 2020 target through constant progress in annual percentage terms. As a result of the failure to reduce deaths at the pace required, annual reductions of 11.4% each year are now needed between 2017 and 2020 for the EU to stay on track. Significant and urgent efforts are needed to achieve this.
The political will to improve on this poor progress is important. The lack of it at EU member state level has contributed to a decline in levels of police enforcement, a failure to invest in safer infrastructure and limited action on tackling speed and drink driving in a number of countries.
At the EU level, there has also been a conspicuous lack of action. Minimum EU car, van and HGV safety standards have not been updated since 2009 despite rapid advances in vehicle crashworthiness and new technology that can help drivers to avoid or mitigate the consequences of collisions. Plans to update the standards were postponed and the proposal is not expected until March 2018. Updates to EU infrastructure safety rules have also not materialised.
Thanks in part to the efforts of ETSC and its members, EU transport ministers recently urged the European Commission to come forward with a serious injury reduction target to cover the period 2020-2030. This would be a step forward, as earlier targets only covered deaths. It is now critical that the European Commission brings forward the above initiatives and a long term road safety strategy for 2030 within the coming months.
The motorcycling community and ETSC share many of the same interests. The first and most urgent priority is to convince policymakers at the EU level and in member states that action is needed now. It is now clear that some of the explanation for progress in the last decade was due to the poor economic situation in many countries. Reduced economic activity meant less travel, and less risk exposure. In parallel many countries cut back on infrastructure improvements as well as enforcement. As economies pick up again, deaths and serious injury could be set to increase again everywhere unless policy makers react urgently.
Compounding the problem is the emergence of new threats. Mobile phone use is increasing and in-car entertainment systems are now permanently connected, and while there is not enough data to understand exactly what impact that has had on collisions, it seems increasingly clear that new measures are needed. Banning the use of wired hands-free kits, as France has done recently, is just scratching the surface. Distracted driving must become as socially acceptable as drink driving, and enforcement must be stepped up to dramatically increase the perception that there is a high possibility of getting caught.
Another risk is the current obsession with automated driving. Governments are falling over themselves to license trials, and be seen to be leaders in this new technology. But the reality is, even if automated cars were available to buy today, it would still take decades before they represent the majority of the fleet. Automation needs to be taken seriously, and could provide big long-term benefits if regulated properly. But in the meantime, regulators themselves are being distracted from technologies available today that could already reduce deaths if installed on every new vehicle. Cars fitted today with automated emergency braking, blind spot detection and intelligent speed assistance are already saving lives. As the technology evolves, similar innovations should be extended to motorcycles – as has been the case with antilock braking systems
It may be a cliché, but the fact remains, there is no silver bullet to fix road safety. Driver / rider behaviour, infrastructure, vehicle safety, enforcement, education – all are important in reducing risks. We hope 2018 will be the year the EU wakes up from years of inaction and gets its eyes back on the road ahead.