Road transport is, and has always been, pivotal to European development and to sustaining its much-valued quality of life. But our laneways, bi-ways, roads and highways have also taken their toll. Despite vast improvements in vehicle and road-building standards, technology and regulations, lives are still being lost. Drivers might want to pay heed to the World Health Organisation's fast facts about road safety!
Ever since the Romans carved out a system of roads from Rome to the outer reaches of its empire, road transport has been pivotal to European life and development. Today, some 50% of all goods and three-quarters of passengers are transported on the vast systems of roads criss-crossing Europe.
|Euro NCAP, a project in the EU-funded APSN network, provides motorists with safety performance assessments of popular cars sold in Europe.|
© Euro NCAP
“Over the past century, the private car has brought about true mass mobility and remains a symbol of personal freedom in modern society,” notes the Commission website on Sustainable Road Transport Research. “The number of cars in the European Union continues to rise by more than 3 million per year. Meanwhile, forecasts point to a 50% increase in road freight traffic by 2010.” All this points to the need to redouble efforts to safeguard vulnerable road users (in and outside the vehicle).
Road transport is a flexible and relatively cost-effective means of transport. But it has its downside, notes the website. Despite the ten hectares of new roads built every day in Europe, road congestion remains a serious problem to be addressed by research. As, too, is vehicle emissions and road safety. But how much do we know about road safety?
A ‘click' that saves lives
According to the World Health Organisation's (WHO) ‘Ten facts about road safety' website, 1.2 million people worldwide die in road accidents every year, with as many as 50 million injured or disabled. Half of all crash victims are “vulnerable road users”, such as pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists. All these accidents cost countries up to 4% of their GNP. But many of them could be avoided or minimised.
Correctly used seatbelts cut the death toll by 61%, notes the WHO. Child restraints can trim 35% of child deaths, and helmets for two-wheeled vehicles can reduce fatal and serious head injuries by up to 45%. What's more, the enforcement of drink-driving laws around the world could lower alcohol-related crashes by 20%. Another fact to heed: driving just 1km/h slower reduces the number of crashes by 2%. While simple, low-cost engineering measures save thousands of lives, concludes the WHO.
European policy-makers and research efforts are conscious of these headline facts about road safety. Indeed, part of the Sixth Framework Programme's Sustainable Surface Transport mission is to reconcile increasing demands for personal mobility with greater safety. Through its Community Road Accident Database (CARE), the Commission identifies and quantifies road safety problems, and evaluates the effectiveness of road safety measures to determine the relevance of Community action and to foster information exchange.
One EU-supported Network of Excellence, the Advanced Passive Safety Network (APSN) is actively seeking solutions to the unnecessary deaths and injuries on Europe's roads. Building on the work of previous networks (PSN1 and EVPSN2), APSN's aim is to mobilise European scientific and business expertise in vehicle passive safety, boost road safety and bring down the annual death toll.
EU-endorsed Technology Platforms also assist road transport policy-making and reflection, bringing together all interested parties in a particular transport mode to flesh out Strategic Research Agendas (SRA) that define priorities for future research. The European Road Transport Research Advisory Council (ERTRAC) delivered its SRA to the European Commission in February 2005.
ERTRAC is co-organising a major event next year, called the ‘Transport Research Arena 2006', in Gothenburg, Sweden. This conference's main concern will be implementing the European Research Area (ERA) for sustainable, safer and more efficient road transport in Europe.