If an average sized plane crashed every day without any survivors, European policy-makers would act – but the same number die on the roads and few take notice, says European Transport Safety Council
In 2010, some 31,000 people lost their lives on roads in the European Union. The estimated figure for 2011 stands at approximately 30,600, a mere 2 per cent reduction – a long way off the European Commission target of getting down to 15,500 road deaths by 2020. According to commission vice-president Siim Kallas, responsible for transport, 85 people die on EU roads every day.
The numbers are both stark and worrisome, yet the European Transport Safety Council believes that road safety does not feature enough on the agenda of policy-makers. If one average-size plane crashed every day without any survivors, action would be taken with urgency, yet the same number of people die on the roads and only a handful of decision-makers truly and fully dedicate themselves to sustainably reducing the number of road deaths. Since 2008, the EU-wide mantra has been to reduce costs and balance budgets. In 2011, the ETSC estimated that the EU would save societal costs of €180bn if the 2020 target was reached through constant progress – amounting to year-to-year reductions of 6.7 per cent in the number of road deaths. The slow progress of 2011 is clearly a missed opportunity but the potential is still there for the taking if measures are adopted and implemented to cut road deaths.
In 2011, the EU adopted a new transport white paper and set targets for reducing road traffic deaths in the EU, with a stated aim of moving close to zero fatalities in road transport by 2050. "In line with this goal," the white paper outlined, "the EU aims at halving road casualties by 2020". The bold statements are in place, now bold actions are required to reach the road safety targets.
The 2011 estimates for road deaths show that even with one extra year, the EU has yet to halve road deaths compared to 2001. Yet there has been significant progress throughout the decade: road deaths were cut by 43 per cent in the EU27. In the EU15 countries that originally set the 2001 target – those that were members of the bloc before 2004 – road deaths have been cut by 48 per cent. For the EU as a whole, 100,000 road deaths were prevented as a result of road safety measures taken at European and national level. Reductions have gathered pace towards the end of the decade in the EU10, the group of countries that joined in 2004, and are also gathering pace in Bulgaria and Romania.
Eight countries: Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Spain, Luxembourg, Sweden, France and Slovenia all reached the EU 2010 target. Portugal very nearly made it with a reduction of 49.4 per cent. Ireland, Germany, the United Kingdom, Italy, Slovakia and Belgium achieved reductions above the EU average. There was no country in the EU27 plus Israel, Norway and Switzerland where the number of deaths recorded in 2010 exceeded that of 2001.
Two priorities likely to contribute to improved road safety in the EU in the next decade are currently under discussion. One is managing fatigue with a revision of the tachograph regulation and the second concerns EU funds to improve road infrastructure, bringing it in line with the new requirements of the infrastructure safety directive. There is currently a new legislative proposal aimed mainly at improving the technical capabilities of the digital tachograph. The recording of the driver's individual duty periods is mandatory in commercial vehicles in European countries for enforcement of driving time regulations. In a report entitled Tackling Fatigue: EU Social Rules and Heavy Goods Vehicle Drivers
, the ETSC looks at how enforcing social rules is one of the important tools to manage fatigue. Research shows that driver fatigue is a significant factor in approximately 20 per cent of commercial road transport crashes.
The proposal underlines the need for further efforts in training enforcement officers. At present, there is room for interpretation in terms of procedures and application of the legislation, which means that the decisions of control officers vary. Drawing up European minimum standards for the training of inspection bodies and for coordinating cooperation between the inspection bodies could lead to welcome improvements. When the regulations on working hours and tachographs are ignored or circumvented, the lives of drivers, passengers and other road users may be put at risk. Non-compliance and fraud also give undue competitive advantage to those breaking the law, with negative impacts on the functioning of the internal market. The ETSC welcomes efforts included in the proposal to tackle this with, for example, higher standards demanded of the workshops that install and calibrate the tachograph.
The new proposal includes the intention to ensure a minimum degree of harmonisation of sanctions in relation to the tachograph rules. This is also welcome, as at present the rules on penalties applicable to serious infringements between member states vary greatly. For drivers and undertakings engaged in international transport, it is therefore very difficult to receive a clear message concerning the gravity of possible infringements when they do not comply with certain provisions of regulations. There is much more to be done in this area to improve road safety, including greater communication with the drivers and their employers.
The other huge challenge facing the EU this year is to secure and outline a new budget for 2014-2020. For the EU budget to express its policy in numbers, funding needs to be identified within the new multi-annual financial framework to support investment in these new road safety measures and contribute to reaching the new 2020 targets. Financing road safety would support the principles that underpin the EU budget. The commission is revising its guidelines for the Trans-European Networks for Transport and has proposed a new funding instrument to deliver transport objectives, the Connecting Europe Facility. The new TEN-T guidelines include a specific reference to the two main infrastructure safety directives: Directive 2008/96/EC on road infrastructure safety management and Directive 2004/54/EC on minimum requirements for tunnels in the Trans-European Road Network.
The guidelines also include the prioritisation of road safety when promoting projects of common interest. What is also needed is for this same conditionality to comply with EU infrastructure safety legislation that exists now in the proposal for the TEN-T Guidelines to be extended to all EU funds, including the European regional development funds supporting transport infrastructure. In past years between €1.5bn and €2bn of the EU budget are spent every year on building roads in the EU. If new roads are built with EU money, then they must be safe.
Promoting walking and cycling is one of the new priorities of the transport white paper within urban areas, and the commission argues that they "could readily substitute the large share of trips that cover less than 5km". The new EU budget should reinforce this new commitment by encouraging safe and sustainable integrated transport options, especially for the last kilometre. Securing EU budget on road safety and improving the implementation of social rules for professional drivers are important to protect EU citizens' right to life and mobility. These and other measures can deliver an EU added value and support transport, one of the EU's common policy areas.
This is an important year for European road safety policy, as the first year of the new target. Hopefully, we will see the identification of a new budget to support cost-effective road safety measures to reach the new and ambitious 2020 targets.Ellen Townsend is a policy director at the European Transport Safety Council. This article first appeared in PublicServiceEurope.com's sister publication Public Service Review: Transport