Friday

24th Nov 2017

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.

Analysis

EU 'cannot afford' lengthy German deadlock

Angela Merkel's failure to form a coalition government has raised concerns in Europe that the EU's most powerful country will send the block into paralysis.

Analysis

EU 'cannot afford' lengthy German deadlock

Angela Merkel's failure to form a coalition government has raised concerns in Europe that the EU's most powerful country will send the block into paralysis.

News in Brief

  1. Rwanda may resettle 30,000 migrants from Libya
  2. EU tax haven blacklist may include Turkey
  3. No UK 'capital of culture' city post-Brexit
  4. EU sets up natural disaster rescue team
  5. Spain sends migrant arrivals to unfinished prison
  6. Iceland prepares for biggest volcano to blow
  7. Greek parliament postpones debate on Saudi arms deal
  8. Family of murdered Malta journalist to sue police

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Energy Ministers Pledge to Work More Closely at Nordic and EU Level
  2. European Friends of ArmeniaLaunch of Honorary Council on the Occasion of the Eastern Partnership Summit and CEPA
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsEU Leaders Should Press Azerbaijan President to End the Detention of Critics
  4. CECEKey Stakeholders to Jointly Tackle the Skills Issue in the Construction Sector
  5. Idealist Quarterly"Dear Politics, Time to Meet Creativity!" Afterwork Discussion & Networking
  6. Mission of China to the EUAmbassador Zhang Ming Received by Tusk; Bright Future for EU-China Relations
  7. EU2017EEEstonia, With the ECHAlliance, Introduces the Digital Health Society Declaration
  8. ILGA EuropeFreedom of Movement For All Families? Same Sex Couple Ask EU Court for Recognition
  9. European Jewish CongressEJC to French President Macron: We Oppose All Contact With Far-Right & Far-Left
  10. EPSUWith EU Pillar of Social Rights in Place, Time Is Ticking for Commission to Deliver
  11. ILGA EuropeBan on LGBTI Events in Ankara Must Be Overturned
  12. Bio-Based IndustriesBio-Based Industries: European Growth is in Our Nature!

Latest News

  1. EU awaits UK proposals in final push for Brexit breakthrough
  2. Berlin risks being 'culprit' for stalling EU, warns Green MEP
  3. Eastern partners, eastern problems
  4. Germany's Schulz under pressure to enter coalition talks
  5. LuxLeaks trial re-opens debate on whistleblowers' protection
  6. Wilders says Russia is 'no enemy' ahead of Moscow visit
  7. EU must put Sudan under microscope at Africa summit
  8. Mali blames West for chaos in Libya

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Dialogue PlatformErdogan's Most Vulnerable Victims: Women and Children
  2. UNICEFEuropean Parliament Marks World Children's Day by Launching Dialogue With Children
  3. European Jewish CongressAntisemitism in Europe Today: Is It Still a Threat to Free and Open Society?
  4. Counter BalanceNew Report: Juncker Plan Backs Billions in Fossil Fuels and Carbon-Heavy Infrastructure
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic countries prioritise fossil fuel subsidy reform
  6. Mission of China to the EUNew era for China brings new opportunities to all
  7. ACCASmall and Medium Sized Practices Must 'Offer the Whole Package'
  8. UNICEFAhead of the African Union - EU Summit, Survey Highlights Impact of Conflict on Education
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council Calls for Closer Co-Operation on Foreign Policy
  10. Swedish EnterprisesTrilogue Negotiations - Striking the Balance Between Transparency and Efficiency
  11. Access EuropeProspects for US-EU Relations Under the Trump Administration - 28 November 2017
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable Growth the Nordic Way: Climate Solutions for a Sustainable Future