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Vice President of the European Commission
Keeping Europe’s roads safe for the future
DEKRA road safety conference/Brussels
5 November 2013
Honourable Members, ladies and gentlemen
In just a few days, Europe will take another important step forward in the battle to reduce road deaths and injuries.
Breaking the most important traffic rules is surprisingly common, especially when motorists cross a border and think the rules of the road no longer apply.
Police have often found it impossible to identify and punish offending drivers because there hasn’t been the proper cooperation between different national authorities. A driver of a car registered in another country is three times more likely to commit a traffic offence than a resident driver.
Whichever country it is, road traffic rules are put there for a good reason: to protect us. If they are broken, there must be consequences.
But many drivers think they can get away with it and – literally - drive away from local justice, out of the country.
That all changes later this week. EU countries should be applying new rules on cross-border enforcement that allow offenders to be identified and prosecuted. We will be monitoring Member States to check that their national laws do properly reflect the EU rules. We will not hesitate to act if this is not the case.
Take speeding, one of the four 'big killers' on our roads, along with drink-driving, running red lights and not using seatbelts.
In countries like France with a high level of tourism and road transit, speeding by non-residents can reach 25 % of the total number of traffic offences. In very busy periods like the summer holidays, it can go as high as 50 %.
EU figures suggest that foreign drivers account for 15 % of speeding offences but only 5 % of the traffic. Until now, most speeding drivers have got away with it – because authorities from the country where the offence was committed cannot pursue these drivers when they get home.
Apart from these "big four", the new cross-border rules address other major safety-related traffic offences: driving under the influence of drugs; driving while using a mobile phone; illegally using an emergency lane; and, for motorcyclists, failing to wear a helmet.
Enforcing the rules is something the Commission takes very seriously. The cross-border rules will make sure that foreign and resident drivers are treated equally. They will remove today’s climate of impunity for foreign drivers – which has not helped to raise public acceptance of law enforcement on the roads.
Ladies and gentlemen
As DEKRA knows very well, since it is the focus for this year’s road safety report, rural roads are an area of concern. On average, around 33% of all road accidents and 57% of fatal accidents take place on rural roads in the EU.
There are several contributing factors, such as high speed on rural roads that are perhaps also too narrow, or insufficiently safe infrastructure. Or a combination of vehicles travelling at different speeds – like cyclists, tractors, cars and motorcycles all sharing the same space.
The safety risk of motorcycles in particular has concerned me for a long time. As you know, motorbike and scooter riders, particularly the young, are the highest risk group of road users.
While EU road deaths have fallen over the last 10 years, reported deaths for motorcycles remain the same. This is a trend that we need to reverse – and I hope to report some good news to you when the EU’s 2013 road safety figures are published in the first months of next year.
In the meantime, however, we have not been sitting still. With the new European driving licence now in force, we have tighter rules to stop people getting access to big powerful motorcycles too soon. We now have "staged access" for younger drivers, with a strong focus on training and testing.
In the past, European law allowed many young riders with no practical experience to ride the most powerful class of motorcycles.
Road statistics show the accident risk of novice riders of heavy motorcycles is particularly high when they are under 24 years of age.
There also used to be no licence and no minimum requirements for driving mopeds. That has also changed: mopeds now constitute a new vehicle category and candidates for a moped licence have to pass a theory test.
Lastly, I would like to mention an area that is often overlooked in road safety strategies – serious injuries. This has become a major health problem.
For every person killed in a crash, there are an estimated 4 life-long disabled, 10 serious and 40 slight injuries. Serious road injuries more often occur in urban areas than on rural roads.
About 250,000 people are estimated to be seriously injured in road accidents every year. Compare that with the 28,000 road deaths reported in the EU for 2012. These injury rates are unacceptably high.
Apart from the great pain and suffering endured by accident victims, the socio-economic costs are also very high. So, earlier this year, the Commission proposed a long-term strategy for reducing serious road injuries.
There are problems of misreporting and underreporting. It has also been nearly impossible to compare data across Europe because national figures – when they even exist – vary widely.
These differences have meant that we cannot really understand the size and nature of the problem. We needed common definitions of road injuries, given the many different national views and understandings. These have now been identified. This is how we can design a better strategy to 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 we already have for reducing fatalities.
We also plan to create a more systematic and uniform collection of in-depth accident data. The aim is to reduce the risk of underreporting and misreporting.
Ladies and gentlemen
Europe is more or less on track to achieve the target of halving fatalities by 2020 compared with 2010. There has been great progress around the EU over the last 10 years: travelling on EU roads has become much less of a life-threatening risk.
As you know, in 2012 an average of 55 people out of every million died on Europe’s roads. This was the lowest recorded rate since we started collecting data some 50 years ago.
But as always, I have to sound a note of caution.
There is a risk of becoming complacent, despite these positive results and trends. We have to avoid this. It is still completely unacceptable to have so many men, women and children dying unnecessarily in road crashes in the EU.
There is still a great deal of work ahead of us. The battle continues.
Thank you for your attention.