The European Commission is looking to halve the number of deaths that happen on Europe’s roads each year, with a combination of new laws, better standards for roads and cars, and increased pressure on national governments to enforce their own laws.
In a road safety plan to be announced on Tuesday (20 July), the Commission will set out a target of cutting road deaths by a half over the course of ten years – even though the EU has failed to meet a similar target set a decade ago.
Around 35,000 people in the European Union died in road accidents in 2009, but the Commission thinks this number can be halved by 2020, by changing driver behaviour, improving vehicle technical standards and road design. It is promising new laws and more pressure on of national governments to enforce existing road safety legislation.
Since 2000, road deaths have fallen by 36% across the EU and the Commission has acknowledged that the EU will not meet the goal of a 50% reduction between 2000 and 2010.
The new EU target exceeds the ambitions of road-safety campaigners, who had looked for a 40% reduction over the next decade.
The new road safety plan could eventually mean changes for learner drivers. The Commission is considering a two-stage driving licence, putting new drivers on probation after passing their tests. However, this idea would have to be agreed by member states and the European Parliament.
National law enforcement
The Commission also wants to put more pressure on national governments to enforce national laws on speed limits, alcohol and wearing seatbelts. EU-wide rules on speeding were not part of the plan, but an EU law requiring alco-locks to be fitted on school buses or in vehicles of people convicted of drink-driving offences is being considered.
Motorcyclists will be the focus of new attention in the strategy. The Commission wants technical standards on motorcycle airbags and anti-tampering systems (to stop drivers removing speed controls). Road-worthiness tests would be extended to more categories of motorbikes and powered two-wheelers.
The Commission also wants to ensure that EU funds will be given to the building of only those roads that are designed to safety standards, so-called forgiving roads without hairpin bends and an excessive number of confusing road signs.
For the first time, the Commission will set a target to reduce road injuries, although first it has to agree on a common definition of injury. Ellen Townsend of the European Transport Safety Council (ETSC) said that an injuries target was important to help prioritise fast responses from emergency services.
Figures to be published at the same time as next week’s plan show sharp differences in road safety culture across the Union. Greece and Romania are the most dangerous countries in which to be a road user, with 130 deaths each per million inhabitants. The Netherlands and Sweden are the safest countries, with 39 deaths per million.
Latvia, Spain, Estonia and Portugal have made the most progress in reducing fatalities since 2000, while the EU’s newest members, Bulgaria and Romania, have been the worst performers.
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