How many road crashes occur in the EU every year? What is their impact?

There are over 1.3 million road crashes in the EU each year that:

How was road safety in the past? Is it getting better or worse?

Probably the worst year for road safety in Europe was 1972 when the number of road deaths in the current 27 EU member states reached its peak of 93,000. Since then it has gone down to 39,000 in 2008 (provisionally 35,000 in 2009). This impressive improvement happened despite a threefold increase in the distance of motor vehicle travel in these countries during the same time (from 1.2 to 3.6 trln. vehicle kilometers in the EU15; data for East European countries is unavailable).

What are the main causes of road deaths in the EU countries?

The main causes are: speeding, alcohol and non-use of seat belts. Each of these accounts for roughly a third of road deaths which in 2009 totalled 36,000.

What are the legal Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) limits in the EU-27?

What countries in Europe have penalty point systems for drivers committing traffic offences?

Here is the list:

Austria Yes
Czech RepublicYes (since 2006)
DenmarkYes (since 2005)
EstoniaNo (planned)
FranceYes (since 1992)
GermanyYes (since 1974)
GreeceYes (since 1983)
IrelandYes (since 2001)
ItalyYes (since 2003)
LatviaYes (since 2004)
LuxembourgYes (since 2002)
PolandYes (since 1993)
SpainYes (since 2006)
UKYes (since 1995)

Source: Traffic law enforcement across the EU – An overview, ETSC

Are penalty point systems different in different countries?

Yes, they are. The following variants of penalty point systems are currently in force among the EU Member States:

Demerit point system: France, Italy, Luxembourg, Latvia, (Bulgaria)...
France: a licence has 12 points and a beginner’s licence only 6 points.
Germany: the licence has 18 points.
Spain: Drivers will receive an initial credit of 12 points and lose between 2 and 6 points for different types of traffic offences

The point is to gain no point: Ireland, Denmark, Germany, Greece
Ireland: penalty points remain on the license record for a period of 3 years and an accumulation of 12 points at any time within the 3 years will lead to an automatic disqualification for 6 months.

Denmark: 17 different traffic offences are worth one penalty point. If a driver incurs three points over three years, they must re-sit a theoretical and practical driving test. The driver pays the cost of the tests and, if they fail, they loose their license until they pass both tests. Even after passing the tests, the driver is on probation for three years. If they incur three more points during this period, they are normally banned for six months. Novice drivers loose their licence after two points during the first three years.

Latvia: The maximum number of penalty points is 10 for novice drivers and 16 for other drivers and leads to a one year disqualification. The maximum number of penalty points for a single offence is 8 for the most serious offences such as drunk driving or leaving the scene of an accident. Penalty points last for 2 years or in the case of serious offences (8 points) for 5 years. If, within a 10-year period, a driver reaches twice the maximum number of penalty points, he/she receives a life-long disqualification, but has the right after 5 years to apply for a driving license as a novice driver. There are opportunities for drivers to reduce the number of penalty points by participating in driver improvement courses or theory tests.

‘Bonus’: In Spain and Italy, drivers who do not violate any traffic rules for at least two years will gain two points every two years up to 30 points maximum.

What is the effectiveness of penalty point systems?

In the UK the number of fixed penalties issued to speeding has grown massively over the last 10 years, but the number of people disqualified from driving has remained relatively stable. This suggests that the deterrent effect of penalty points may be considerable.

In Ireland and Italy, penalty point systems have been introduced more recently. As a result, road safety levels improved quickly, but experiences in both countries show that this initial effect can wear off rapidly if the system is not sustained by an integrated approach to road safety.

Not all systems are equally effective. With some systems, only a very small proportion of points are withdrawn or added even for serious traffic offences. This is why countries such as France and Hungary have recently tightened their systems. Moreover, not all systems include points for offences such as the non-use of seat belts or speeding. In Germany and Austria, for example, seat belt use is not included in the penalty point system but in Ireland, Latvia, France and Hungary this is the case. In Germany and Austria, minor speeding violations are not included either, whereas in Ireland and Italy, these offences have carried penalty points since the introduction of the new systems.

Source: Traffic law enforcement across the EU – An overview, ETSC

What are Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) for speed management? Can you give some examples?

The term Intelligent Transport Systems covers a wide range of devices which assist the driver to control the vehicle. Some of the most efficient ITS in speed management can be grouped together under the name Intelligent Speed Assistance (ISA). ISA refers to a collection of technologies which assist the driver in the task of speed control. ISA has clearly been identified as a technology that has one of the biggest life-saving potential. ISA makes the vehicle ‘aware’ of driving above a speed limit and gives the driver feedback, in some cases even restricting engine throttle control, to keep the vehicle at or under the speed limit. The most commonly chosen method to make the vehicle aware of its location and the prevailing speed limit is the use of GPS devices and an on-board digital map. What is then done with the information varies from informing the driver of the limit (advisory ISA), warning them when they are driving faster than the limit (supporting ISA) or actively aiding the driver to abide by the limit (intervening ISA).

There are many other ITS technologies which are also useful in controlling and managing a vehicle’s speed. Here are some examples:

Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) is a more advanced cruise control that can automatically adjust a car’s speed to maintain a safe following distance. This new technology uses a forward-looking radar, installed behind the grill of a vehicle, to detect the speed and distance of the vehicle ahead of it. Uunlike conventional cruise control, this new system can automatically adjust speed in order to maintain a proper distance between vehicles in the same lane. This is achieved through a radar headway sensor, digital signal processor and longitudinal controller. If the lead vehicle slows down, or if another object is detected, the system sends a signal to the engine or braking system to decelerate. Then, when the road is clear, the system will re-accelerate the vehicle back to the set speed. It has been estimated that if all vehicles were fitted with ACC accidents would fall by 13% on ‘provincial’ roads and 3.4% on main roads, but only when used in non-congested traffic.

Forward Collision Warning is a system which warns drivers both visually and with a sound when they are too close to a preceding vehicle. Systems with auditory warnings have been proven to be especially effective warning mechanisms. Lack of driver attention or concentration is one of the most common causes of front-to-rear end collision crashes and could successfully be addressed by this technology.

Emergency Braking Systems will be introduced into the markets after 2010 but deserve prioritisation due to their extremely efficient safety benefits. The system reacts if a vehicle approaches another leading vehicle. Systems can react in one of three steps: 1) Optical and acoustical warning, if the approaching could lead to an accident. 2) Autonomous partial braking, if the distance is reduced further. 3) Autonomous full braking, if an accident appears inevitable. With the total penetration of the full Emergency Braking system it is estimated to bring down road deaths by 7% in the EU.

Is there any link between transport safety and the environment?

Yes, there certainly is. Speeding in particular amplifies the environmental impact of road transport, while it also contributes as much as one third of all road deaths in the EU. Reducing speed through the enforcement of speed limits and technologies such as Intelligent Speed Assistance can save lives and mitigate global warming at the same time. Here are some more facts and figures:

Source: Managing Speed: Towards safe and sustainable road transport, ETSC

Are smaller cars less safe than bigger ones? Does safety compete with environmental efficiency in modern cars?

No, this is a myth. In the past some motor manufacturers argued that safety requirements imposed on the industry have offset efforts to cut emissions since safer cars by definition must be heavier. This argument is misleading: it is not safety that makes additional car weight and drives up their CO2 emissions – it’s size, comfort and, most importantly, the top speed capabilities of today’s cars. To quote just one reliable and objective expert, Professor Claes Tingvall, Chairman of the European New Car Assessment Programme (Euro NCAP): “Blaming safety [for additional car weight and ecological underperformance] is unfair and incorrect… The performance of smaller and lighter cars at Euro NCAP clearly shows that improved safety does not need additional weight”.

New body materials and optimized structure have made cars safer, but the added weight due to such safety interventions is negligible. Heavier vehicles are the result of an increase in size for comfort, more luxury features (e.g. air conditioning) and more powerful engines to achieve higher speeds (the majority of new cars today can exceed the legal speed limit of 130 km/h by at least 40 km/h). On the contrary, limited engine power leads to lower speed, lighter weight, better safety and lower emissions.

If we want to reduce both traffic injuries and CO2 emissions, we need to downsize power and maximum speed in modern cars. The higher the speed, the greater the chance of a crash happening and the more severe its consequences.

How do different transport modes rank in terms of safety?

What are the EU requirements for school buses regarding wearing seatbelts?

The answer is quite simple: since 2006 the obligation for passengers to wear seat belts has been extended to ALL VEHICLE TYPES operating within the EU.

Some best practice measures adopted by the Member States in order to increase seat belts wearing rates have been studied and presented by ETSC in PIN Flash 12 Reducing Child Deaths on European Roads (p.10)

How are things with road safety in other parts of the world?

Every year 1.3 million people are killed and 20 to 50 million injured in road crashes around the world. Developing countries are particularly badly affected, accounting for 90% of global fatalities.

In greater Europe, some 120,000 people are killed and 2.4 million injured in road collisions each year. The EU-27 has a lower road mortality than the US, but higher than Australia or Canada.

According to the US Department of Transportation, there were 37,261 road deaths in 2008, of which 31% were caused by speeding. The economic cost of speed-related crashes is more than US$40 billion each year, according to NHTSA.

The road death rate in the USA was 142 per million population in 2006 (latest available data) against 79 in Australia in 2007 and 87 for the EU in 2007 (down to 79 in 2008).

Where could I learn about innovative best practices in Europe concerning transportation safety for pedestrians, bicycles, and vehicles in cities?

First of all we invite you to consult the materials from one of our past studies on safety measures employed in EU capital cities. You may find them in the PIN Flash 11 - En route to safer mobility in EU capitals at: http://archive.etsc.eu/PIN-publications.php

ETSC has also held a number of events dedicated to road safety best practices in Europe. The materials can be found at http://archive.etsc.eu/bie_proceedings.php. In particular, we would suggest abstracts from a Conference on Safer Cities (organised several years ago but containing some useful hints and contacts): http://archive.etsc.eu/documents/besteuabstr02.pdf

As regards individual city safety plans, we would suggest the Road Safety Plan for London which is available at: http://www.tfl.gov.uk/corporate/projectsandschemes/2289.aspx

A new Cycle Safety Action Plan for London is under preparation and could also be of interest: http://www.tfl.gov.uk/roadusers/cycling/13382.aspx

For Dublin, you can download a presentation of Michael Byrne from the Dublin City Council stressing the importance of dedicated safety plans at city level http://archive.etsc.eu/documents/ETSC_PIN_Dublin_0810_Michael_Byrne.pdf

You could also check the site of the POLIS - The Network of European Cities, based in Brussels at www.polis-online.org

Where can I find information on the EU rules for road vehicle driver's eye tests and their frequency?

EU common minimum requirements are set in the Directive 2006/126/EC of 20 December 2006 on driving licences which can be found here. It will come into force by 2013 at the latest.

For drivers of group 1 (cars): it is up to Member States to decide whether or not to impose a medical test. Some do (Spain, Germany: medical examination required after a certain age 60/65...). But most Member States don't.

For drivers of group 2 (trucks, buses, professional drivers): compulsory medical examination before a driving licence is first issued to them and then before each renewal. As from 19 January 2013, licences issued by Member States for categories C, CE, C1, C1E, D, DE, D1, D1E (group 2) shall have an administrative validity of 5 years. So medical examination will be necessary at least every 5 years. Member States can always set up higher standards (i.e. shorter administrative validity).

See Article 7 “Issue, validity and renewal and Annex III Medical examinations and sight” of the above document.

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