Monday

21st May 2018

Analysis

Why is road safety not higher on EU agenda?

  • Last year, 26,000 Europeans died as a result of a traffic accident. (Photo: David Tubau)

The European Commissioner in charge of transport fell short of begging journalists on Thursday (31 March), pleading with them to write about road safety.

“Please, media, join us and help us to raise this issue, to really become a political priority,” Violeta Bulc said at a press conference, after the commission released figures that showed that last year 26,000 Europeans died as a result of a traffic accident.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • Annual figures have gone done significantly since 2001, but the decrease has all but stopped (Photo: European Commission)

There were also around 135,000 Europeans who got seriously injured.

While the number of annual deaths has significantly dropped from 54,900 in 2001, the decrease has all but halted in recent years.

In 2015, the figure even went up by 100 deaths compared to the year before, and reached the same level again as in 2013.

“The latest figures are disappointing,” said Bulc.

“We need better enforcement, education, better speed management, safer roads, and safer vehicles. Yes, these measures might be costly, and seem demanding. But can we put really a price tag on life?”

EU member states still have great autonomy over how they improve their roads, so there is little Bulc can do but increase political pressure.

She said Thursday that she had sent letters to all transport ministers, called on member states “to show stronger political commitment”, but also noted there is a gap between promises politicians made and actions on the ground.

“I can tell you that when I discuss with [transport ministers], there is a high level of commitment, and then when we see this implementation on a level of member state, on operational level, something is still failing.”

The commissioner noted that governments are spending “less and less money” on road safety.

There are sharp differences between member states, as can be concluded from the fatality rate per million inhabitants.

With the exception of Malta, which had the lowest fatality rate of 26 per million inhabitants, most of the relativel safer' countries were in northern and western Europe, with 27 fatalities per million in Sweden, and 28 in the Netherlands.

By contrast, the weakest road safety records are held by eastern members: Romania (95 fatalities per million inhabitants), Bulgaria (95), Latvia (94), Lithuania (82), and Croatia (82).

But even the 'safest' countries need to work harder, Bulc said.

“Road safety is not about numbers or percentages. Behind each and every number, there is a story,” she added.

Yet it is mostly from a purely statistical point of view that the case for improving road safety is strongest.

Aside from health-related issues, there are few policy areas that cause more premature deaths in Europe.

Take terrorism, an area even higher on the European agenda after the attack on Brussels last week.

Even Bulc apparently felt the need to mention attacks in her press conference about the road safety figures.

“Last week's tragic events in Brussels, as well as road accidents like the recent bus crashes in Spain and France remind us of [life's] fragility.”

Yet policy responses to those two issues seem completely out of balance, if you only look at the number of deaths they cause.

A 2005 research among mostly western countries showed that on average, the yearly death rate from road injury was around 390 times higher than that from international terrorism.

In 2015, 160 people died in Europe as a result of terrorism, as compared to the 26,000 who died in a traffic accident.

However, counter-terrorism was on the agenda in Brussels much more often than increasing road safety.

Last year, transport ministers met in Brussels five times, and one time informally in Luxembourg. During those so-called Council meetings, the issue of road safety was on the agenda twice.

In June, the issue was scheduled under “any other business”, when ministers were to receive a presentation by the commission of a report on the EU road safety policy framework. In a December meeting, the issue was addressed during a working lunch, but no conclusions or measures were taken.

By contrast, justice and home affairs ministers, who had eleven Council meetings in 2015, spoke at length about counter-terrorism at six of them.

Of course, policymakers and politicians look at many more factors than just fatalities.

After terror attacks, they are under public pressure to announce more measures to prevent future attacks. The state is held responsible for public security, whereas traffic accidents are viewed as a much more individual responsibility.

Earlier this week, US state department official Jeremy Shapiro addressed this when he wrote about his visit to Brussels.

“Outside the train station, I think of the 31 people who were so tragically killed in the metro and at the airport while innocently going about their daily lives,” he wrote.

“But as I watch the Brussels traffic, I’m also thinking about the two or three people who, statistically speaking, died in road accidents that same day in Belgium. They were also going about their daily lives and probably also died tragically.”

The former director of research at the Center on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution gave three explanations for why people demand what he called a “disproportionate reaction to terrorism”.

One: humans are unable to differentiate between anecdotal evidence and statistics.

“Statistically speaking, because I am at greater risk from traffic accidents than from terrorism, my mother should have advised me to stay off the roads, not avoid Brussels.”

Two: intense global news media coverage of attacks “has made terrorism a much more effective tactic than it was once was”. And third, people tend to overestimate threats if the enemy that causes it is foreign.

However, Shapiro also pointed out that it is unlikely that this will change.

EU commissioner Bulc did provide one glimmer of light. She said she was due to test a self-driving car next month, hinting that perhaps we should look to technology instead of politicians to makes Europe's roads safer.

EU reconsiders anti-terrorism response

An emergency meeting of interior ministers could take place Thursday. But border security, use of databases and EU cooperation were already on the table last autumn.

Investigation

Why doesn't the EU have a road transport agency?

There are EU agencies covering maritime transport, aviation, and railways, but road transport never got its own. Some MEPs are now advocating one, to the chagrin of many member states.

Opinion

Linking EU funds to 'rule of law' is innovative - but vague

Defining what constitutes 'rule of law' violations may be more difficult than the EU Commission proposes, as it tries to link cohesion funds in east Europe to judicial independence. A key question will be who is to 'judge' those judges?

Opinion

Europe's budget stasis

The EU's budgetary muddling through might not be enough when the next crisis hits.

News in Brief

  1. Trump warns Nato allies' low budgets will be 'dealt with'
  2. Only Estonia, Greece and UK hit Nato spending target
  3. EU to start process to counter US Iran sanctions
  4. Macedonia PM sees 'possible solutions' in Greek name row
  5. EU takes six countries to court over air pollution
  6. New Catalan leader sworn in without reference to Spain
  7. Merkel and Putin revive dialogue in troubled times
  8. European companies putting Iran business on hold

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersOECD Report: Gender Equality Boosts GDP Growth in Nordic Region
  2. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Peace and reconciliation is a process that takes decades” Dr. Anthony Soares on #Brexit and Northern Ireland
  3. Mission of China to the EUMEPs Positive on China’s New Measures of Opening Up
  4. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOld White Men are Destroying Macedonia by Romanticizing Greece
  5. Counter BalanceControversial EIB-Backed Project Under Fire at European Parliament
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersIncome Inequality Increasing in Nordic Countries
  7. European Jewish CongressEU Leaders to Cease Contact with Mahmoud Abbas Until He Apologizes for Antisemitic Comments
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual Report celebrates organization’s tenth anniversary
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Cooperation Needed on Green Exports and Funding
  10. Mission of China to the EUPremier Li Confirms China Will Continue to Open Up
  11. European Jewish CongressCalls on Brussels University to Revoke Decision to Honour Ken Loach
  12. Sustainable Energy Week 2018"Lead the Clean Energy Transition"- Register and Join Us in Brussels from 5 to 7 May

Latest News

  1. Zuckerberg and Trump top the EU's agenda This WEEK
  2. Integration of Syrian refugees in Europe needs scrutiny
  3. Bulgarian PM: No asylum reform without stronger border
  4. Eight countries to miss EU data protection deadline
  5. Italian populists to defy EU debt rules
  6. Commission 'playing tricks' with EU budget figures
  7. How France escaped EU legal action over chemical ban
  8. 'Connectivity' trumps enlargement at Balkans summit

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EU Green Week 2018Green Cities for a Greener Future. Join the Debate in Brussels from 22 to 24 May
  2. Nordic Council of Ministers12 Recommendations for Nordic Leadership on Climate and Environment
  3. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOxford Professor Calls for an End to the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  4. ACCAPeople Who Speak-Up Should Feel Safe to Do So
  5. Mission of China to the EUProgress on China-EU Cooperation
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersWorld's Energy Ministers to Meet in Oresund in May to Discuss Green Energy
  7. ILGA EuropeParabéns! Portugal Votes to Respect the Rights of Trans and Intersex People
  8. Mission of China to the EUJobs, Energy, Steel: Government Work Report Sets China's Targets
  9. European Jewish CongressKantor Center Annual Report on Antisemitism Worldwide - The Year the Mask Came Off
  10. UNICEFCalls for the Protection of Children in the Gaza Strip
  11. Mission of China to the EUForeign Minister Wang Yi Highlights Importance of China-EU Relations
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersImmigration and Integration in the Nordic Region - Getting the Facts Straight

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMacedonians in Bulgaria Demand to End the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  2. Counter BalanceThe EIB Needs to Lead by Example on Tax Justice
  3. ILGA EuropeTrans People in Sweden to be Paid Compensation for Forced Sterilisation
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsThe Danger of Standing Up for Justice and Rights in Central Asia
  5. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Must Work Together to Promote Global Steel Sector
  6. Swedish EnterprisesEU Tax Proposal on Digital Services Causes Concern for Small Exporting Economies
  7. European Jewish CongressCondemns the Horrific Murder of Holocaust Survivor Mireille Knoll in Paris
  8. Mission of China to the EUAn Open China Will Foster a World-Class Business Environment
  9. ECR GroupAn Opportunity to Help Shape a Better Future for Europe
  10. Counter BalanceControversial Turkish Azerbaijani Gas Pipeline Gets Major EU Loan
  11. World VisionSyria’s Children ‘At Risk of Never Fully Recovering', New Study Finds
  12. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMeets with US Congress Member to Denounce Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations