Towards a Strategy on Serious Road Traffic Injuries – Frequently asked questions
Road safety work in the EU has to date been highly successful. During the last strategy period, 2001-2010, the number of fatalities on EU roads was reduced by a total of 43%, coming close to but not completely achieving the strategic objective of ‘halving road deaths by 2010’. However, for every person killed on the road, an estimated ten are seriously injured. Moreover, for serious injuries, the reported improvements are not as impressive. The data reported by Member States showed only a 36% decrease between 2001 and 2010. Apart from the human suffering caused by these injuries, the socio-economic costs incurred are estimated at around 2% of annual EU GDP.
Towards an injuries strategy
For these reasons, the European Commission has today published a document on serious road traffic injuries outlining the next steps towards a comprehensive EU strategy on serious road injuries, notably:
- A common definition of serious road traffic injury,
- A way forward for Member States to improve data collection on serious road accidents, and
- The principle of adopting an EU-level target for the reduction of serious road traffic injuries.
Tackling serious injuries – what is the current situation?
Some 250 000 people are estimated to be seriously injured in road accidents every year - compared to the 28 000 road fatalities in 2012.
The most common serious road traffic injuries are head and brain injuries, followed by injuries to legs and spine. Many serious injuries lead to life-long suffering or permanent disabilities. Vulnerable road users, for example pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists or users in certain age groups – notably the elderly – are especially affected by serious road injuries. Serious road traffic injuries more often occur in urban areas than on rural roads.
What can be done?
A key factor contributing to success in tackling road fatalities has been the results-based approach adopted in two consecutive ten-year EU road safety strategies. It is clear that, based on the experience of the successful targeted work on road fatalities, much could be gained by applying a similar focus to serious but non-fatal road injuries. To do that however, requires clear and accurate data to assess the scale, nature and complex causation of serious injuries, as well as to allow for the monitoring of the impact of subsequent actions.
What is the problem with injuries data?
A lack of common definitions and wide-spread underreporting and misreporting mean that the information on the scale and nature of serious injuries is insufficient, lacking in detail and incomplete. It is likely that the total number of people seriously injured in road traffic is substantially higher than currently reported.
Currently, Member States use different, often non-medical, definitions of serious injury, as well as different data gathering methods. For example, some Member States defined a seriously injured person as someone needing hospital treatment; others as someone having to stay at the hospital for more than 24 hours; and some Member States had national definitions based on lists of diagnoses.
At the moment, there is also substantial misreporting and under-reporting of serious injuries. Misreporting occurs as "on the spot" assessments by police have commonly been the only method used for determining the injury severity grade that is entered into road safety databases. In many cases there is no appropriate follow up with hospital records of assessments. A large proportion of non-fatal accidents are not reported at all (for example, under-reporting occurs as police are not always alerted to accidents). Some injuries are reported as serious although they are not. Studies have indicated that only about 70% of serious injuries are actually reported.
This knowledge gap must be closed. Only with a better understanding of the situation can actions and policies be efficiently designed to reduce the number of serious injuries and minimise their long-term consequences. A better understanding of crash injury trends is also needed for making international comparisons.