Road safety is European political priority

Despite improvements, the number of deaths on Europe’s roads remains 'intolerable', warns Ines Ayala Sender.

By Ines Ayala Sender

09 Dec 2014

In the context of road safety, in spite of the major advances of EU policy in the objective of reducing the number of fatalities by more than 50 per cent over the last decade, there still remains much scope for improvement. The frightening figure of 28,100 deaths on EU roads in 2013 is still intolerable and demands that we, as legislators, continue combating it with all the resources at our disposal, and more.

Initially, and despite the commission considering it too ambitious an objective, we in the parliament decided to maintain the commitment to halve the number of road victims by 2020. Nevertheless, we are aware that with the persisting crisis and its socioeconomic consequences, urban growth and major demographic aspects place new challenges before us, as well as the need to boost the momentum of EU road safety policy.

"Parliament has always considered guaranteeing road safety as far as is possible to be a political priority"

Worryingly, despite a continuous reduction since 2000, a slight upturn has been observed in the number of victims in general and in certain countries. There is an ageing population which claims the right to continue driving, an increase of cyclists and motorcyclists in urban traffic, ageing vehicles, dramatic cuts in road upkeep and maintenance expenditure due to the economic crisis, lack of sufficient financing for infrastructure and for innovation to improve road safety.

We cannot abandon important areas like investment in infrastructure, in training and in R&D. Good design and correct maintenance of our roads, as well as research and investment to develop safer vehicles and new smart technologies to help drivers, who also need to be made aware, to adapt and to undergo new training, are key in this respect.

Therefore, it is time for Europe to leave behind the current policy of reckless cuts which also increases the number of traffic victims, and for the commission’s new investment plan to provide for resources to improve road safety. In this respect, we in parliament already include the road safety objective in the connecting Europe facility, the programme of investment in trans-European transport networks, with a planned budget of more than €30bn by 2020. The Horizon 2020 programme will also be decisive in its support for innovation applied in road safety matters.

Just one note of caution regarding the extraordinary advances in smart technologies in which we place so much hope, from the new speed control and braking devices, driving assistance and alarm systems, alcoholocks, eCall systems, as they alone will not resolve non-human factor accidents. These advances must be complemented by policies concerning behaviour and an improvement in the application and effective control of regulations.

"It is time for Europe to leave behind the current policy of reckless cuts which also increases the number of traffic victims"

Within the context of implementation of regulations and behaviour, fortunately there have also been advances here. In 2011 the EU finally managed to adopt the cross-border road traffic offences directive demanded by the associations of relatives of accident victims. This closes an existing legal loophole and authorises traffic authorities to request the details of the owner of a vehicle with a foreign registration caught in a major road safety offence, with the aim of being able to notify them in their own language of the offence committed which is subject to punishment.

Since it came into force in 2013, and despite the fact that the legal basis agreed with the council for getting it off the ground limited its scope, this new legal instrument has already shown its potential, with reductions in the number of offences by foreign drivers being observed.

That suggests, then, a major deterrent for foreign drivers, who today are aware that any offence committed abroad can be notified to them.

In spite of such a promising start, the court of justice, at the request of the commission, considered that the appropriate legal basis for this directive was the one which originally both the commission and parliament had recognised and which was modified at the request of the council. Despite declaring it null and void, the court in its wisdom and prudence has allowed the legislator to correct and adopt a new text in accordance with the legal basis of transport safety.

As such, we are faced with a new proposal currently going through parliament with the objective of being able to adopt it as soon as possible with no more changes than those required by the ruling. Both parliament and council have as our objective the reaching of an agreement under the Italian presidency to avoid the risk of legal loopholes and to be able to continue applying such a beneficial instrument.

Parliament has always considered guaranteeing road safety as far as is possible to be a political priority. Citizens, who do not usually like receiving notice of a traffic offence, nevertheless approve of the fact that all Europeans, regardless of the registration of their vehicle, are treated as equals.

We are working hard, not just on the prompt adoption of this text which will improve the application of the regulations for all Europeans, but on a proposal for their revision so that in 2016 we might be able to improve the system. At the same time, we are working so that Europe may adopt a sufficiently ambitious investment plan to place road safety high on the agenda, to exercise our current commitment with ‘vision zero’, which obliges us not only to achieve safer roads, but to create and launch new instruments to avoid having to weep for more victims. That is our commitment.

 

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