are by far the most dangerous mode of transport. Fewer than 1000 people
die as a result of railway accidents every year; in 1996, however, 42000
people were killed and 1.7 million injured on Europe's roads. These
figures give pause for thought. It is as if every year a medium-sized
town were wiped off the map.
The statistics are chilling, but there are some positive signs. For
example, despite the continued increase in traffic, the number of victims
in the European Union has in fact fallen, although it is still too high.
Between 1991 and 1997, the number of people killed on the European road
network fell by 22%, while the number injured was down by 9%.
But there are huge differences between one country and another. For
example, for every million inhabitants, there are four times as many
fatal accidents in Portugal as in the United Kingdom. Such differences
are proof that policies have a real impact - road safety is no accident.
Further progress can still be made. For instance, it is estimated that
the number of deaths on European roads each year would fall by 11000
if the average speed were reduced by 5%. Similarly, if seatbelts were
worn systematically, both in the front and in the back, more than 8000
lives a year could be saved.
has been a great deal of European research in the area of road safety,
focusing on three major objectives. The first of these, active safety,
seeks to prevent accidents from occurring. The first priority is to
encourage drivers to adopt reasonable and appropriate driving behaviour.
Some projects have, for example, made it possible to develop technical
systems to limit speed or to effectively detect when alcohol and medicines
have been consumed by drivers. Other projects have been devoted to providing
the police with leading-edge tools in order to detect infringements
of the law more accurately.
A second group of European research projects focuses on reducing the
seriousness of accidents by reinforcing safety equipment in cars, improving
the quality of road infrastructure and designing integrated management
systems for safety in the urban environment.
Before they can devise appropriate policies, however, decision-makers
have to be able to rely on precise data which can be realistically compared
from one country to another. The compilation of such statistics is a
third specific challenge for European research.
The danger of medicines
More and more drivers are taking
to the road under the influence of medicines or drugs, which is an
increasing cause of accidents. How can the police reliably detect
those who are at fault? Urine sample tests are the most effective
method but are not the easiest to apply. ROSITA,
a project coordinated by the University of Ghent (Belgium) with partners
in eight European countries, aims to define more practical detection
Head-on collisions are by far the
most dangerous. To limit the damage they cause, car manufacturers
are trying to improve the safety of vehicles. Crash tests using dummies
help to pinpoint the measures needed. ADRIA, a European research project
coordinated by the TNO Institute in Holland, is trying to develop
a new generation of true-to-life dummies
in order to obtain better results.
Making roadworks safer
Signs warning motorists of roadworks
are often poorly placed and workers at such sites are unprotected.
Roadworks cause drivers to slow down suddenly, which is a potential
source of accidents. ARROWS, a project which is being led by a team
in Athens, is trying to design European standards for the kind of
measures which need to be taken to make roadwork sites safer. The
aim is to safeguard the lives of both drivers and roadworkers.