Press release
27 May 2000



1. Summary

  • Road crashes are the leading cause of death for EU citizens under 45 years and the leading external cost of road transport. ETSC welcomes the Commissionís communication which highlights immediate priorities for action to the year 2001.
  • This paper highlights those measures which ETSC strongly supports and those which we believe need further consideration. Safer car fronts for pedestrians and cyclists, further support for EuroNCAP, measures to increase seat belt use, best practice guidelines and an EU information system are particularly welcome. The proposal for a recommendation rather than a mandatory requirement for a maximum upper blood alcohol limit is a regrettable reversal of previously held Commission policy.
  • Since there is only one and half years to the end of the current action programme (1997-2001), ETSC takes the opportunity to outline some key recommendations for a longer term road safety strategy including a proposal for an EU numerical target to reduce deaths to a maximum of 25000 annually by the year 2010.

2. Background

Over 42,500 people die each year and over 3.5 million are injured, taking under-reporting into account. Road crashes cost over 160 billion euro annually - around twice the EU budget total for all activity. As the Commission communication indicates, the trend in serious and fatal injuries has been downward, but is now levelling off.

ETSC supports common effective action on road safety as is laid out in the Treaty Ė (Articles 71 and 95) and believes that increased action is necessary using all the tools at the Commissionís disposal: legislative proposals, financial support for demonstrably effective activity, best practice guidelines; and support for research. In February 1997, ETSC set out a comprehensive strategic road safety plan to 2010 highlighting recommendations for EU policy by all of these means (ETSC, 1997).

Notwithstanding the useful steps that have been taken, ETSC believes that the EU contribution to date in road safety falls short of an appropriate Community response to this persistent and costly societal problem. This progress report and priority action plan comes three years after the 2nd Action Programme on Road Safety was presented and demonstrates that despite the delays associated with EU institutional changes, the current resource in the Commissionís road safety unit is too small. Currently, in the road safety unit, there are around four full time official posts which deal solely with road safety. The air safety unit has twice (staffing has been increased recently) and the maritime safety unit three times this number. Road crashes represent over 90 per cent of the crashes and costs in transport and much higher risks over distance than any of the other public transport modes. This current imbalance needs to be addressed.

3. Response to Commission priorities for action to 2001

ETSC broadly accepts the Commissionís conclusions about priorities for action, especially in view of the remaining timescale for action. Given that the EU has exclusive responsibilities for EU Whole Vehicle Type Approval for an increasing number of vehicle types, the Commissionís emphasis on vehicle safety is appropriate.

3.1. Legislative priorities

Safer car fronts for pedestrians and cyclists
There are over 9300 deaths to cyclists and pedestrians annually. Pedestrians and pedal cyclists are the most unprotected groups of road users who do least harm in traffic, many of whom are children or older road users. After 22 years of public investment in the EU research and development programme, two previous attempts at legislation and with the potential to save 2000 lives and 19000 serious injuries annually, ETSC welcomes confirmation that a legislative proposal is one of the Commissionís immediate road safety priorities.

The integrated four EEVC sub-system tests which have been available for 10 years, and which form the basis of tests used in EU-supported EuroNCAP programmes since 1996, all need to be required for new designs, where costs can be easily assimilated, as soon as possible. ETSC notes that this measure topped the list of European Parliamentís priorities in their last road safety opinion.

Seat belt legislation Ė smart audible seat belt reminders
The scope for saving lives through higher seat belt use is about 7,000 lives across the EU annually. Publicity alone clearly is not enough and there is insufficient police enforcement in every Member State. In-vehicle measures such as smart seat belt reminders could make a very cheap contribution to encouraging safe behaviour.

Smart seat belt reminders are intelligent devices which detect whether or not seat belts are in use in different seating positions and give out increasingly aggressive warning signals until the belt is used. The technology is there and various car manufacturers are experimenting with different systems. User trials have been conducted in Sweden and have shown that audible warnings lead to higher rates of seat belt use than without. The National Society for Road Safety in Sweden estimates such devices could save at least 20 per cent of car occupant road deaths annually.

Work is underway to develop a smart seat belt reminder specification and this work should receive full support. In preparation for the results of this work which are expected to be available within a reasonably short timescale, the EU should prepare for a mandatory requirement within the Type Approval system.

Speed limiters for light commercial vehicles
ETSC supports this proposal for legislation on the fitment on speed limiters for trucks over 7.5 tonnes.

Daytime running lights
ETSC supports the mandatory fitment of daytime running lamps for motor vehicles. Estimates vary, but between 8-29% of daytime multiple crashes might be avoided if all cars were fitted with daytime running lights. The lives of around 250 motorcyclists could be saved if motorcycles had them too.

Blood alcohol limits
ETSC regrets the reversal in Commission policy regarding a binding EU upper blood alcohol limit of 0.50g/l. The legal limit needs to form a reasonable basis for the package of measures needed to reduce alcohol-related crashes which are claiming 9000 deaths annually across the EU. Any policy with limits over 0.50g/l simply lacks credibility and fails to give guidance to drivers about safe drinking and driving levels.

The mandatory upper alcohol limitation would have saved 1000 lives a year but has been rejected for reasons of subsidiarity. This is in stark contrast to the last European Parliamentís road safety opinion and the recent UK Governmentís road safety strategy which states "we intend to deal with proposed reductions [0.80 to 0.50g/l] in the European context" (DETR,2000).

3.2. Financial support

The European New Car Assessment Programme (EuroNCAP) is a world leading and, to date, a most important safety initiative. It produces safety ratings principally on the basis of performance in well-established car occupant and pedestrian crash tests and deserves full EU support. As many cars as possible need to be tested and EU membership of EuroNCAP would allow it to increase its support further. ETSC also believes that the ratings for car occupant and pedestrian test performance need to be combined to given an overall rating which will be of more use to car buyers.

Information campaigns to encourage seat belt use
Research and experience internationally show that the use of information campaigns on their own do not lead to sustained increases in seat belt use. In order to get the maximum benefit from EU funding, any future support for information campaigns should be linked to police enforcement activity as a pre-condition of funding.

3.3. Best practice guidelines and information exchange

ETSC welcomes the inclusion of best practice guidelines in the new programme. These should comprise a synthesis of universal road safety principles in key areas of road safety work and illustrative case studies for voluntary use by safety professionals.

The purpose of these is to promote key road safety best practice in the European Union to help to reduce the large differences in road crash injury risk between different Member States and encourage the take up of best practice everywhere including on EU-funded infrastructure. These would assist professionals at local and regional level involved in the specification and implementation of road safety measures.

Priority areas include guidelines at road safety engineering at high risk sites, safety audit, urban safety management, speed reduction and forgiving roadsides.

The development of an EU road safety information system and further development and use of the EU road accident data base (CARE) are essential activities.

3.4. Comment on ranking exercise

ETSC believes it is important that the crudeness of the ranking exercise is understood. Experts were invited to rank different measures in the action programme against different criteria. However, the individual measures were not precisely defined, making expert assessment difficult. For example, measures to improve seat belt use were treated as one action despite the fact that different activities will have different costs and benefits. Seat belt publicity in isolation may not effective in increasing seat belt use, yet seat belt publicity supporting police enforcement has been shown to be. In-car seat belt reminder systems are even more effective and, if introduced on a mandatory basis should score high on all counts. These different possibilities needed to be ranked separately rather than as one.

A wide range of cost estimates is presented for some of the measures. These will often reflect different assumptions about what the measure might comprise e.g. in some instances estimates will apply just to new models of cars, in others to existing models. Some will represent industry estimates, others will be estimates from independent studies. In these cases, it needs to be understood that the differences may be political rather than scientific and may be as a result of not comparing like with like.

It is hoped that any future analysis will be based on objective assessments of costs and benefits, will start off from the basis of casualty reduction priorities and focus on measures which can be more easily identified.

4. Need for a road safety strategy to 2010

4.1. Target setting

There is growing acknowledgement that improvements in road safety will only be brought about by adopting a more rational, systematic management approach. This means defining target levels of safety, defining priorities for resources and implementing cost-effective measures according to proven casualty reduction benefit and regularly monitoring progress.

Several Member States are now setting longer term road safety strategies with road numerical safety targets. The EU needs to do similarly.

Research and experience show the value of targets at local and national level. ETSC represents the opinion of most safety professionals and experts that the EU needs an aspirational numerical target to reduce deaths in the European Union.

ETSC supports the European Parliamentís call in its last opinion on road safety (1997) for a long term target to reduce deaths to no more than 25,000 by the year 2010. This now represents around a 40% reduction in deaths based upon the current annual total of 42,500.

A target at EU level would provide a stimulus for EU activity where the Union has exclusive responsibilities for road safety, and for shared activity with Member States in the other fields. To date, the Commission has been reluctant to propose a target since this could not be achieved by EU action on its own, but as happens nationally where responsibilities are shared with local authorities and others, a set target would provide focus for all the players involved.

Numerical targets have been set in several areas of EU policy, including for vehicle emissions. Until there is a target at EU level to reduce road deaths, it is going to be more difficult to obtain the commitment of all those that need to be involved in the process of delivering this strategy. In ETSCís view it is no coincidence that the five best performing Member States in road safety Ė Sweden, UK, Finland, the Netherlands and Denmark - have used numerical targets in their strategies for some years.

While cost-effectiveness is important, we believe that this is just one criterion which needs to be considered in setting priorities for the road safety action programme. The starting point should be to identify the most important road safety problems, to identify the actions which deliver the highest casualty reduction benefit and then determine which add most value most cost-effectively. A long term road safety strategy needs to be determined along these lines.

4.2. Key EU road safety problems and solutions

The international best practice reviews which ETSC has carried out during the last seven years indicate that despite some differences in levels of motorisation, the road safety problems and solutions in most Member States have many similarities. Examples of key problems and solutions which have been identified are as follows:

Excess and inappropriate speed is widespread
ETSC estimates that better speed management across the EU which reduces average speeds by just 5 km/h has the potential to prevent over 11,000 deaths and 180,000 injury accidents annually.

Non-compliance with speed limits is widespread across the EU. Surveys in various Member States show that around two thirds of drivers exceed the speed limit on urban 50 km/h roads and half exceed the limit on single rural roads. In urban and residential areas, the safety of high risk groups such as pedestrians, older road users and children is too often given much lower priority than the mobility of vehicle users.

Various Member States have demonstrated, with dramatic results, how drivers' choice of speeds can be influenced by the way in which roads and their surroundings are engineered, by imposing and enforcing speed limits and by educating and informing drivers. For example, recent work in Denmark and Germany shows that between 15 and 80 per cent reductions in casualties are possible through area-wide engineering treatment in residential areas. The UK has reported over 70 per cent savings in casualties in some localities through use of speed camera equipment, but such activity does not seem to be widespread yet in any one Member State.

Since the beginning of the 1990s, EU wide SARTRE surveys of driver opinion have found that over 60 per cent of drivers believe excess and inappropriate speed to be a major problem for road safety. Moreover, fifty eight per cent of drivers would accept devices fitted to their cars which would prevent them from exceeding the legal speed limit. This indicates the strong potential which some of the emerging telematics solutions aimed at reducing speeds can offer.

EU added value


Establishing an upper EU-wide speed limit of 120km/h


Best practice guidelines in speed management, urban safety management

Research and development

Intelligent speed adaptation in cars

9000 lives are lost annually result from crashes involving excess alcohol
Despite the significant reductions experienced by different countries over the last 10 years, many accidents still result from drinking and driving. While less than 5 per cent of drivers drive with excess alcohol, they are responsible for at least 20 per cent of the serious and fatal traffic injuries in the EU - some 9,000 fatalities per year. A minor reduction in drinking and driving would make a large contribution to the improvement of road safety.

Current blood alcohol levels in EU countries


Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, UK


Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Netherlands, Portugal, Austria, Germany, Greece, Spain,



Seventy eight per cent of EU drivers would support a low EU-wide limit of 0.50 g/litre according to the EU-funded SARTRE survey of 1993. A later survey in 1997 indicates that 75 per cent of drivers in the EU believe that the chances of being detected for excess alcohol are virtually zero

EU added value:


An upper EU blood alcohol limit of .5g per litre


Best practice guidelines on enforcing excess alcohol laws

Research and development

Alcohol interlock devices

The accident risk of young novice drivers is too high
Road accidents are the main cause of death of young people and most of the 15,000 15-24 year olds killed in EU traffic die in the first year after obtaining a driving licence. One measure which shows promise is graduated licensing. This means stepwise access to a full licence, starting off with supervised driving and restrictions such as lower alcohol limits, which are lifted step by step after passing intermediate tests. This approach was first introduced in 1987 in New Zealand and following this the number of serious injury accidents among novice drivers decreased by 23 per cent; of which at least 7 per cent could be attributed to the new licensing procedures. With 10,000 EU deaths in the 15-24 year old age group, it is important that this area should be looked at carefully in any new proposal on driving licensing.

A recent ETSC review on intelligent transport applications and road safety also highlighted the future potential of electronic driving licences as a key method of managing exposure to risk improving enforcement by prevent unlicensed driving.

EU added value:


Develop step-wise access to a full driving licence. For the longer term develop electronic driver licences

Research and development

Establish a scientific base to facilitate effective training

Non-use of protective equipment such as seat belts and crash helmets doubles the risk of fatal and serious injury
Despite EU legislation on seat belt use, usage rates vary considerably between Member States, with low rates in the front seats in some countries and low rear restraint wearing rates in general. Reported front seat wearing rates vary between 20 per cent (Greece) and 92 per cent (Germany), but several countries do not monitor usage, and the lower end of the range may be lower still. Rear seat wearing rates across the EU vary between 9 per cent (Greece) and 80 per cent (Sweden).

EU wide SARTRE surveys of driver opinion indicate that 93 per cent of drivers recognised that seat belts can reduce serious and fatal injury for drivers and passengers in car crashes. The emphasis in road safety activity should be on measures to change behaviour Ė attitudes already seem to be sympathetic to the need for seat belt use.

ETSC estimates that if the lower wearing rates were brought up to the best rate which has been achieved internationally at any one time, then around 7,000 lives could be saved annually in EU countries.

Eighty per cent of the motorcyclists and moped riders killed annually in the EU sustain fatal head injuries. Crash helmets have the potential to reduce the incidence of fatal head injuries by 50 per cent. An EU Directive should be introduced requiring compulsory crash helmet use.

EU added value:


Directives on smart audible seat belt reminder systems and compulsory motorcycle helmet use


Best practice guidelines on enforcement supported by information campaigns

Too many untreated high risk accident spots
Low cost road safety engineering measures (LCM) can be implemented quickly, and offer high ratios of benefit to cost, for example, small changes in junction operation, road lay-out, lighting, signs and markings. They can be applied at high risk single sites, along a section of route or over a whole area. They are currently being used widely and systematically in some Member States, but not so extensively in others.

An ETSC questionnaire to 15 Member States 1996, 12 of whom replied, found that:

  • In 5 - there was no formal policy for LCM
  • In 6 - neither LCM guideline nor operational manual exists
  • Only 5 reported taking specific steps to stimulate the application of LCM work
  • Only 3 had separate national LCM budget or used evaluation as standard phase in LCM process

Even in those countries where low cost measure programmes are being taken forward, the resources allocated to such programmes are still very limited. For example in the UK, where such work has been going on since the 1960s, first year economic rates of return of 200 per cent are still being achieved. This is a clear indication of the impressive potential for improvements.

EU added value:


Best practice guidelines for remedial treatment at high risk sites

Insufficient crash protection provided by vehicles and infrastructure
Accident analysis shows that if all cars were designed to give crash protection equal to the best in their class then 50 per cent of fatal and disabling injuries could be avoided.

Single Market legislation stipulates that standards should ensure a high level of protection, but some EU legislative standards are more than twenty years behind current knowledge. Over the last few years, the legislative process has become more sensitive to safety needs and EU Directives have been introduced recently requiring new cars to pass front and side impact crash Current priorities also include (see above are safer car fronts for pedestrians and cyclists, seat belt reminder systems) and energy absorbing front guards for lorries to prevent underrunning by cars.

At the same time, market forces stimulated by objective consumer information are leading to much faster improvements in crash protection and the development of EuroNCAP, the new car crash test programme for consumer information, is a major and exciting step forward.

Best practice guidelines on the design of forgiving roadsides are envisaged in the priority action programme to 2001. Requiring best practice in road safety engineering activity and mandatory safety audit on all road infrastructure including the TERN, would be a most powerful incentive for improvements in road safety.

EU added value:


Safer car fronts for pedestrians and cyclists

Smart audible seat belt reminders

Development of legislative crash tests for energy absorbing HGV front underrun protection

Fitment of daytime running lights on motor vehicles

Mandatory safety audit on all new infrastructure


More support for EuroNCAP

Development of an in-depth EU database on injury and accident causation to inform policymaking

Common actions such as these which address these key road safety problems shared by all Member States would go some way to reduce the gap between what is known to be effective and what is currently practised.

5. References

DETR (Department of the Environment Transport and the Regions) (2000) Tomorrow's roads: safer for everyone. The Government's road safety strategy and casualty reduction targets for 2010. UK

ETSC (1997) A Strategic Road Safety Plan for the European Union. European Transport Safety Council, Brussels.




ETSC, May 2000