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European research in action

Objective safety

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Graphic elementThe facts

Graphic elementCars 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.


Graphic elementAction

Graphic elementThere 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.

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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 methods.

True-to-life dummies
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.

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