The latest passenger cars and commercial vehicles are fitted with active safety technologies to prevent accidents from happening, and passive safety systems to protect occupants and other road users if a crash occurs.
But vehicle technology is just one piece of this complex road safety puzzle. Equally important factors are the behaviour of drivers and other road users, the maintenance and design of infrastructure, traffic rules and their enforcement, as well as vehicle fleet age, to name just a few.
Focusing on one of these factors, while neglecting the others, will not yield the greatest benefits to society. So, if we are to make progress on road safety we need to put more emphasis on an integrated strategy. In other words, we need to ensure that safe vehicles are driven by safe drivers on safe roads.
Safe road users
Road users include both drivers as well as pedestrians and cyclists (the so-called ‘vulnerable road users’). Their behaviour is the area with by far the biggest potential for improving road safety. Indeed, 90% of all road accidents today are linked to human error.
In 30% of fatal accidents speeding is the main factor, while distraction causes 10-30% of road deaths. Equally worrying is the fact that 25% of all road fatalities in Europe are alcohol-related.
Education and training are key factors in instilling appropriate behaviour and attitudes in road users. It is vital that drivers are aware of their own limitations, the dangers of speeding or texting behind the steering wheel and of the influence of alcohol or drugs on their ability to drive.
The enforcement of existing traffic laws is also crucial, as about 65% of fatal accidents are caused by violations of traffic rules. Cracking down on traffic offences will make a difference, but we also need better enforcement across borders. European policy makers need to decide how to apply rules across Europe and to ensure they are complied with.
Safe road infrastructure
Unclear traffic signs, poor lane markings, poor road surfaces and bad road design can be dangerous, to give just a few infrastructure-related examples. Improvements in the design, construction and maintenance of our road infrastructure can significantly improve road safety.
Roads designed to minimise bottlenecks and to ensure better traffic flow, as well as reducing roadside hazards, can have a major impact on safety. Cleverly-designed infrastructure that encourages sensible, attentive driving will also reduce accidents.
Replacing traffic signals with roundabouts significantly improves the safety of road junctions, for instance. Urban planning must also take road safety considerations into account.
The quality of roads is another vital element of road safety. Road surfaces of poor quality, or that are deteriorating, can damage vehicles and put road users at risk. The type of road also plays an important role: Europe’s fastest roads – expressways with multiple lanes – are statistically the safest, while single carriageways (two-lane motorways) tend to be the most dangerous.