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Vice-President of the European Commission
Making Europe’s roads safer: the way ahead
ETSC Road Safety PIN Conference / Brussels
17 June 2013
Minister, ladies and gentlemen
I am delighted to be with you again to present this year’s Road Safety PIN Award. I would like to congratulate Denmark, as represented here today by Minister Bødskov, for its impressive achievements in reducing road deaths.
Denmark’s last road safety action plan was called “Every accident is one too many”. Nothing could be more true.
Denmark has been one of the first EU Member States to add a focus on serious road injuries to more traditional road safety policies. This emphasis is strongly promoted by the European Commission as well.
Denmark has developed remarkably in road safety over the last few years. Road statistics show a 18% decrease for 2012, for one single year – compared with the EU average fall of 9% for the same period. This figure is in itself a great success story - but Denmark managed to double it!
This puts Denmark into the top five EU performing countries for road safety.
With the 2012 figures, we are - almost – back on track to reach our target of halving road deaths by 2020 compared with 2010. Road deaths fell by about 43% between 2001 and 2010.
But I would warn anyone against complacency. There is still a lot to be done. Despite these positive trends, every death is still one too many.
One of our main aims is to do more to protect vulnerable road users - pedestrians, cyclists, children and the elderly. As Europe’s cities are growing, so are traffic volumes in towns and cities.
This is where a pedestrian runs the highest risk of being killed or seriously injured. Pedestrian safety is slowly improving, but it has not yet improved as much as that of car drivers.
And motorcyclists: as you know, motorbike and scooter riders, particularly the young, are the highest risk group of road users.
Here, we have tried to do something. The main problem is that there are simply too many vehicles with technical defects on the road.
So the Commission proposed toughening vehicle testing regimes and widening their scope to include motorbikes and scooters. Today’s rules date from 1977 and do not cover two- and three-wheeled vehicles.
What happened? This proposal has now been rejected twice, by EU ministers and the European Parliament’s transport committee. This is more than unfortunate – and it is yet another unnecessary political compromise.
Of course, technical failure is not the only cause of accidents. It could be a moment's distraction of a driver or a pedestrian, a damaged section of road. Or simply because one road user chooses to ignore a traffic rule.
That last cause - breaking the most important traffic rules – is, in fact, shockingly common.
We know this is a major problem for road safety. The 'big killers' on our roads are the same: drink-driving, speeding, running red lights and not using seatbelts.
It is certainly not true that there are no rules. The rules are clear, in place and there for a reason - to protect us. If they are broken, there must be consequences.
Applying and enforcing the rules is one of Commission’s main strategic objectives and something we take very seriously. We have looked into national road safety strategies from EU countries, including enforcement plans, and will use these as a basis for promoting the exchange of best practice.
I believe that we will see a real difference as Member States gradually turn the EU’s cross-border enforcement directive into their own national law.
The deadline for doing this is approaching fast – later this year - and we will not hesitate to act if any Member State fails to do so.
Ladies and gentlemen
I would now like to mention an area that has often been overlooked in road safety strategies – serious injuries.
For every person killed in a crash, there are an estimated 4 life-long disabled, 10 serious and 40 slight injuries that occur mostly inside built-up areas. This has become a major health problem.
Cars can collide in just a second. The consequences for the victims can stretch over many years.
While EU Member States have made clear progress in reducing road deaths, injury numbers are still unacceptably high.
Estimates for 2010 show almost 1.5 million people were injured in traffic accidents, and about a quarter of a million of these were reported as serious. Just compare that with the 28,000 road fatalities reported in the EU for 2012.
Again, there is much more work to do, which is why the Commission has proposed a long-term strategy for reducing serious road injuries.
The socio-economic costs are also very high. With treatment costs, loss of workforce and the financial burden placed on insurance, legal and social support systems, road injuries cause a combined annual bill of around 2% of our GDP.
But these figures and details are only estimates. The real numbers are likely to be much higher because of substantial misreporting and underreporting.
It has also been nearly impossible to compare data across Europe. National figures vary widely and there have been many different views on what a road injury really is. These differences have meant that we cannot properly understand the size and nature of the problem.
Europe needed common definitions of road injuries – and these have now been identified. This is how we can better address and reduce serious injuries and their long-term consequences.
For 2014, all countries should be able to report comparable, reliable and relevant data using a common scale for defining serious injuries. This will become the baseline year for monitoring trends and improvements.
It will allow an EU-wide reduction target to be set up to 2020 to complement the one that we already have for reducing fatalities.
Ladies and gentlemen
Road safety does not happen on its own. It demands a lot of applied dedication, and I know that the European Transport Safety Council is dedicated in its own work to reduce crashes and casualties on European roads.
It takes investments of time, knowledge and resources. Even in tough economic climates like today’s, our focus should remain on safety and saving lives – so that we continue to reduce the loss of life on Europe’s roads.
Thank you for your attention.