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Road traffic accident fatalities fall across EU

The number of people dying in road traffic accidents across Europe fell by 9% in 2012, according to new figures released by the European Commission (EC).

This drop means that the number of road traffic fatalities is now at its lowest level since the data was first collected.

A landmark year for road safety

Vice-President Siim Kallas, Commissioner for Transport, has described 2012 as a “landmark year” for road safety in Europe, highlighting that a 9% decrease means that 3,000 lives were saved.

However, he warned against complacency, pointing out that 75 people are still killed on Europe’s roads every day. He also stressed that in addition to the road deaths, there are still too many people being seriously injured on the roads.

"Road deaths are only the tip of the iceberg,” he commented.” For every death on Europe's roads there are ten serious injuries such as damage to the brain or spinal cord. We need a strategy to bring down the number of serious road injuries everywhere in the EU."

Road safety a priority

The EC has placed a high priority on reducing the number of deaths and injuries on Europe’s roads, and has identified a number of key areas for improvement under its European Road Safety Action Programme 2011-2020.

A number of important initiatives have already been introduced under this plan, including:

  • A new EU Driving Licence has been in place since January 2013, with tighter rules for the access of young people to powerful motorbikes;
  • National enforcement plans - submitted by Member States providing a rich source of best practices;
  • Cross border enforcement rules to crackdown on traffic offences committed abroad (drink driving, speeding etc) have been in force since November 2012;
  • Work towards the development of an injuries strategy.

EU injuries strategy

According to EC estimates, for every one person that dies on Europe’s roads, a further ten are seriously injured and 40 more suffer minor injuries.

This means that around 250,000 people are seriously injured in road accidents in the EU every year, compared to the 28,000 road fatalities in 2012.

Vulnerable road users, such as pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists or users in certain age groups – particularly the elderly – are at greatest risk of suffering serious road injuries. The most common injuries sustained in road traffic accidents are head and brain injuries, followed by injuries to the legs and spine.

The EC is determined to tackle the continually high number of serious injuries, and would like to adopt a strategy similar to the results-based approach that has been used successfully to reduce the number of road fatalities.

However, there are issues to be overcome before this can be done, as current figures on serious injuries are just estimates. Misreporting and underreporting of serious injuries is common, and as such the figures are not comparable across the EU.
The European Commission has therefore published a document that outlines a comprehensive EU strategy on serious road injuries. This strategy includes:

  • a common definition of serious road traffic injury (applicable from 2013);
  • a way forward for Member States to improve data collection on serious road accidents, (first reporting using comparable EU wide data collection methods and using new definition, 2014); and
  • the principle of adopting an EU-level target for the reduction of serious road traffic injuries (for example for the period 2015-2020).

Five key risk factors

Around the same time that the EC published its latest road casualty figures, the World Health Organisation (WHO) released its own report into road safety. This report showed that the positive news on road fatality reduction in Europe was not reflected across the world.

According to WHO’s ‘Global status report on road safety 2013’, there were 1.24 million deaths worldwide from road traffic crashes in 2010, roughly the same number as in 2007.
The report also identified five main risk factors in the occurrence of road traffic death and injury. These are:

  • drinking and driving,
  • speeding,
  • failing to use motorcycle helmets,
  • failing to use seat-belts, and
  • failing to use child restraints.

Worryingly, the report found that despite the key role played by these factors in the occurrence of accidents, only one in seven Members States have comprehensive laws in place to address all these risks.

The report claims that a rapidly accelerated pace of legislative change is needed before road traffic fatalities can be significantly reduced on a global scale.

"Political will is needed at the highest level of government to ensure appropriate road safety legislation and stringent enforcement of laws by which we all need to abide," explained WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan.

"If this cannot be ensured, families and communities will continue to grieve, and health systems will continue to bear the brunt of injury and disability due to road traffic crashes,” she added.

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