Saturday

18th Aug 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.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • 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.

News in Brief

  1. Germany and Greece strike deal on taking back migrants
  2. Merkel confronts far-right critics: '2015 will not be repeated'
  3. UN: Predictable disembarkation process urgently needed
  4. Slovenia set to select former comedian as prime minister
  5. Polish president to veto election rule helping big parties
  6. MEPs blast UK 'alphabetical approach' on citizens rights
  7. EU hits back over Salvini's blame for bridge collapse
  8. Poll: Sweden's social democrat-led government set to win again

Opinion

While Poles defend courts, Kaczynski hijacks EU elections

While Twitter and EU bubble publications are flooded with photos of protesting crowds and "chains of light" in front of the presidential palace, the Law and Justice-controlled senate has adopted a law restructuring the electoral code for 2019's European elections.

EU Commission skirts Italy sanctions on Roma evictions

The European Commission, as guardian of the treaties, declines to sanction Italy's treatment of the Roma following a forced eviction on Thursday of some 300 from a camp in the outskirts of the Italian capital.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  2. IPHRCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  3. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  4. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  5. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  6. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  8. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  10. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  12. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma

Latest News

  1. EU gets record response on 'summertime' consultation
  2. 'Nativism' and the upcoming Swedish and Bavarian elections
  3. Former Malta opposition leader fears for his life
  4. Women shun EU-funded site for female entrepreneurs
  5. Building a Europe more resilient to terrorism
  6. Brexit talks resume as chance of 'no deal' put at 50:50
  7. US trial sheds light on murky Cyprus-Russia links
  8. Burned cars fuel Swedish election debate

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  3. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  4. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  6. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development
  8. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman Requests More Lending Transparency from European Investment Bank
  9. FIFARecycling at the FIFA World Cup in Russia
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersOECD Report: Gender Equality Boosts GDP Growth in Nordic Region
  11. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Peace and Reconciliation Is a Process That Takes Decades” Dr. Anthony Soares on #Brexit and Northern Ireland
  12. Mission of China to the EUMEPs Positive on China’s New Measures of Opening Up

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOld White Men are Destroying Macedonia by Romanticizing Greece
  2. Counter BalanceControversial EIB-Backed Project Under Fire at European Parliament
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersIncome Inequality Increasing in Nordic Countries
  4. European Jewish CongressEU Leaders to Cease Contact with Mahmoud Abbas Until He Apologizes for Antisemitic Comments
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual Report celebrates organization’s tenth anniversary
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Cooperation Needed on Green Exports and Funding
  7. Mission of China to the EUPremier Li Confirms China Will Continue to Open Up
  8. European Jewish CongressCalls on Brussels University to Revoke Decision to Honour Ken Loach
  9. Nordic Council of Ministers12 Recommendations for Nordic Leadership on Climate and Environment
  10. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOxford Professor Calls for an End to the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  11. ACCAPeople Who Speak-Up Should Feel Safe to Do So
  12. Mission of China to the EUProgress on China-EU Cooperation

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us