Walking tall on safer roads

European Mobility Week is a chance for cities to explore how active mobility can bolster road safety, explains Matthew Baldwin, Road Safety Coordinator of the European Commission.

By Matthew Baldwin

16 Sep 2019

Photo credit: Adobe Stock

According to World Health Organization (WHO) estimates, 1.35 million people die in road tra­ffic crashes annually around the world; 25,000 of these are in Europe.

While we have come a long way in Europe in improving road safety, every death is still one too many.

These stark figures, while horrific, don’t begin to convey the terrible human toll of these deaths, of the grief and pain that is visited upon families and friends.


By way of context, road fatalities threaten to become the fifth-largest cause of death by 2030, on a par with there with cancer and heart disease. It is already the biggest killer of young people and school age children.

Yet this needn’t be so - other causes of epidemic levels of death such as cholera and smallpox have been progressively eliminated from the EU.

There is no reason why, should we choose to commit to this as a society, we cannot also eliminate road deaths.

The European Commission has committed itself to delivering “Vision Zero” - reducing the number of road fatalities to zero by 2050.

There has already been some noticeable progress; between 2001 and 2010, the number of road deaths in the EU fell by 43 percent and by a further 21 percent between 2010 and 2018. So, while there is progress, it has slowed significantly in recent years.

To get back on track, and to reach our ultimate goal of truly safe roads, we need to adopt an approach to road safety which is scientific, evidence-based and founded on internationally- recognised good practice safety management principles, collectively known as the “Safe System”.

The Safe System recognises that people will always make mistakes and human nature means this will continue.

On the roads, these mistakes can lead to crashes. Given that the human body has only a limited tolerance to crash kinetic impact forces, the goal is to ensure that crashes are not fatal.

Making mistakes on the road need not be a death sentence for drivers or the road users around.

This is why we work with our partners in the European Parliament and with Member States to deliver stronger European legislation in those areas where we have competence; vehicle safety and infrastructure safety management.

In 2019, new legislation in both of these areas has already been adopted. But it’s important to say a word about one of the most important and most often neglected aspects - achieving safe travel speeds.

“Road fatalities threaten to become the fifth-largest cause of death by 2030, on a par with there with cancer and heart disease”

This is not an area where the EU can or should be legislating. Yet it is something we should all be concerned about – particularly in urban areas such as Brussels and Strasbourg, where there are strong local efforts to cut speeds.

And for good reason: if a pedestrian or a cyclist is hit by a car travelling at 50 kph, they have only a 10 percent chance of survival. This rises to 90 percent at 30 kph.

Therefore slowing vehicles down will save lives. There are several ways to do this, including technological solutions, but perhaps the most effective is to encourage people to leave their car at home altogether.

Encouraging them to take public transport or even to step out from behind the wheel, coaxing them onto a bike seat or into training shoes – by generating active mobility.

But active mobility needs to be made safer, notably by improving the infrastructure for cyclists and walkers in our towns and cities, through separated cycle lanes and widened pavements for walking.

This is relatively cheap compared to the costs of infrastructure for private cars. It is also an investment that can lead to both happier, healthier people, and to lower public costs in terms of healthcare and emergency services.

Many perceive cycling as too dangerous in urban areas, so are reluctant to incorporate it into their daily commute. We need to reverse this logic, take action to make walking and cycling safer and increasing the number of pedestrians and cyclists.

This way, we can bring together the benefits from better physical fitness, a boosted immune system and more liveable cities with fewer road fatalities.

Which is why this year we have adopted the theme of ‘Safe Walking and Cycling’ under the call to action ‘Walk with us!’ for European Mobility Week, beginning on 16 September.

The Mobility Week is the flagship EU awareness-raising campaign organised with the political and financial support of the European Commission.

“Active mobility needs to be made safer, notably by improving the infrastructure for cyclists and walkers in our towns and cities”

This annual campaign gives people the chance to explore the role of mobility in their daily lives and to experiment with new, more sustainable transport modes.

Last year saw a record number of participants; almost 2800 towns and cities from 54 countries registered their participation in the campaign, joining in - for example - with car-free days.

Its popularity has spread far beyond Europe, with local governments in the United States, South Korea, Japan, and Mexico registering.

Towns and cities across the world are strongly encouraged to use the opportunity of European Mobility Week to explore the benefits of walking and cycling with the local population and to discuss the relationship between active mobility and safety.

European Mobility Week 2019 is an excellent reminder to all of us that active mobility and better road safety measures go hand-in-hand.


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