EU transport safety remains an ongoing challenge

Georges Bach says a 'zero fatalities' vision is driving Europe to further improve safety standards in the transport sector.

By Georges Bach

02 Dec 2014

Improving safety is one of the main objectives of the European Union's transport policy. Although Europe has a good record compared to the rest of the world, leaders have set ambitious goals in road transport, rail, aviation and shipping to reduce the number of accidents even further.

'Zero fatalities in road transport', for example, is based on several aspects. Some of the most important measures are on the education and training of drivers, the redesigning and adaptation of infrastructure and the ongoing development of safety systems in vehicles. European industry is very active when it comes to technological progress in intelligent transportation systems (ITS) and policies are required to establish a legal framework, including in relation to the protection of data, to ensure their successful application in everyday life. Further improvements are expected due to repressive measures such as more rigorous checks and penalties for traffic offences. Following some initial legal difficulties, the directive facilitating the cross-border exchange of information on road safety related traffic offences can soon enter into force. A lot of traffic offences are committed by foreign drivers, not by nationals, and this directive will help to stop these drivers from offending with impunity and ensure greater safety on roads across the EU.

"Rail in the European Union is the safest mode of transport"

Rail in the European Union is the safest mode of transport. While transport services have increased by 50 per cent since 1970, the number of fatal accidents has dropped from 400 to fewer than 100 per year. However, the rail sector has undergone profound changes. The gradual establishment of a single European railway area is marked by an increase in the number of players, communication interfaces, an increased involvement of sub-contractors and a greater number of new businesses entering the market. Given this interaction between railway companies, infrastructure operators, industry and safety authorities, we need to adapt legislation from 2004 to suit the changing circumstances. The political goal of revising the directive is to establish clear decision-making processes and areas of responsibility by introducing appropriate information, management and emergency procedures and instruments. The European parliament has improved the commission's proposal and trilogue negotiations are currently being held between the council and parliament.

Air transport in the European Union is also one of the safest modes of transport. As this sector is continually growing, rules and regulations constantly need to be adapted. The basis for these is a European aviation safety agency (EASA) basic regulation. Responsibility for this lies with the national safety authorities together with the EASA. This collaboration has earned the European aviation industry a top position worldwide in terms of safety, ahead of North America and Asia. Considerations to revise the basic regulation are in the pipeline. The major challenges here are improving data processing and identifying safety risks.

The same applies to shipping, with the European maritime safety agency boasting significant expertise in matters of safety. Here too, collaboration with all relevant players is very important. Considerable emphasis is also placed on inspections as well as the education and training of seamen.

Although safety levels for transport are very high in the European Union, further efforts are needed and improving safety poses an ongoing challenge for all parties involved.


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