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A Look at Highway Accident Statistics on EU Roads

Since the dawn of the automobile age, accidents have been part of the price paid for a more mobile society.  However, the good news for the European Union is that the period from 1999 to 2009 saw a 37% decrease in road deaths, from 50,691 to 34,500 annually.  Despite this, vehicle accidents remain the leading cause of death among those aged 19 to 29.  Outlining the major causes of fatalities on EU roads will serve as a first step towards reducing highway accident statistics further.

The yearly number of traffic fatalities averaged 79 per million citizens for each member of the EU-27 as of 2008.  The specific count varied widely from one member state to the other, however.  Lithuania suffered the most, with 148 per every million citizens.  Following closely behind were Poland with 143 and Romania with 142.  Slightly lower, but still significantly high, were the counts for Greece, Latvia, and Bulgaria: 139 for each. 

On the other hand, the average in both the UK and Sweden was a relatively small 42 per million.  The state with the lowest number was Malta, with an average of 37.  The source for these statistics is the CARE European Road Accident Database.

While specific causes of the highway accident statistics vary widely, the following are the most common:

 

1.   Speeding – A contributing factor to this is the fact that many European roads traditionally do not have speed limits.

2.   Alcohol and/or illicit drugs – This appears to be a special problem in the UK, where deaths from drunken driving increased from 450 in 1998 to 550 per year in both 2005 and 2006.  Across Europe, however, a permissive attitude towards alcohol consumption has led to significantly higher accident rates due to this influence than in the United States.

3.   Unsafe road conditions – Despite the efforts of the EU transportation ministries, road quality remains highly uneven across Europe.  In many locations, streets are in poor repair, with crumbling surfaces, gaping holes, and other safety impediments common.

4.   Lack of seatbelt usage – Despite widespread public awareness campaigns, many Europeans still fail to wear safety belts when driving.  This is a major factor in turning what would otherwise be non-lethal injuries into fatalities.

5.   Use of motorcycles – Though only 2% of EU drivers use motorcycles or mopeds, they account for 17% of the total road deaths.

 

To address these issues, the European Commission met in Brussels on July 20, 2010 to develop a set of guidelines for the coming decade, with the goal of cutting traffic fatalities by 50%.  There were several resolutions adopted at the time, including the following:

 

1.   Improving driver training – Specifically, this would involve raising the levels of knowledge and skill a driver must demonstrate before obtaining a license.  These standards would be even across the EU.

2.   Improvement of road conditions – This is a special problem in rural parts of Europe, where streets are often in poor shape when compared to urban settings.

3.   Increased penalties for drunken and unsafe driving – Currently, penalties for these violations vary widely across the EU.  The commission set the goal of having them uniform across the Union by 2020.  This initiative will involve more rigorous enforcement of rules, particularly those regarding intoxicated drivers.

4.   Making motorcycle and moped drivers safer – This will be accomplished both by improved education of these drivers, as well as requiring periodic inspections of their vehicles.

5.   Raising safety standards for cars and passenger trucks – This will include mandating warning bells and signals that will be activated when a vehicle exceeds the posted speed limit or engages in excessive lane changes.

In addition, new efforts will be made to collect relevant information when a crash does occur.  This data will be forwarded to traffic safety departments, which will analyze it for trends and form additional policy recommendations. These measures have met with widespread approval across the EU-27. 

Drivers as a whole recognize the need for reforms.  They support efforts to make road use safer for all and the reduction of highway accident statistics.  This attitude alone may go a long way towards reducing fatalities, making Europe a safer place for its residents.