Road safety: promoting road safety in the European Union

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Road safety: promoting road safety in the European Union

Outline of the Community (European Union) legislation about Road safety: promoting road safety in the European Union


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Transport > Road transport

Road safety: promoting road safety in the European Union

This Communication aims to improve road safety with a view to reducing the number of accidents in the European Union.

Document or Iniciative

Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions: Promoting road safety in the European Union: – the programme for 1997-2001 [COM (97) 131 final – Not published in the Official Journal].


The Communication takes stock of road safety matters in the European Union for the years 1993-1996:

  • almost all legislative measures announced in the action programme presented in 1993 have been undertaken;
  • all planned studies have been carried out; these focused mainly on vehicles (passive safety), telematic applications and behaviour analysis;
  • non-legislative measures such as the Year of the Young Driver 1995 and the YES campaigns were implemented;
  • the CARE project was initiated, facilitating the creation of a detailed database on road accidents involving personal injury in the different Member States.

The trends and characteristics of road safety in the European Union are as follows:

  • figures vary widely from one country to another;
  • an explosion in the number of cars in certain Member States has gone hand in hand with a worsening of the situation in those countries;
  • the number of fatal accidents is decreasing;
  • those most at risk are pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists, young adults and the elderly;
  • alcohol is still a significant factor in accidents, despite the undoubted success of alcohol-related programmes in some countries;

The Commission advocates a cost-benefit approach in the formulation of future road safety policy.

The record shows that road accidents are estimated to cost 45 billion euros per year, consisting of 15 billion for medical care, police involvement and vehicle repairs, and 30 billion in lost economic production due to fatalities or injuries. With 45 000 vicitims annually, the avoidance of a fatal accident would save 1 million euros. There is therefore an economic justification for taking measures costing up to one million euros rder to save a single life (“the million euros rule”).

Using this approach, the Commission identifies several courses of action involving:

  • the wearing of seat belts;
  • vehicle design (reduction of the risk to pedestrians, improvements to passive safety):
  • the use of collision warning and cruise control systems;
  • day running lights;
  • speed;
  • blood alcohol level while driving;
  • the effect of drugs or medicines on driving;
  • infrastructures.

The aim of this new policy is to reduce the annual total of victims to 18 000 in 2010 (as against 27 000 if the current policy is maintained).

The primary role of the Commission is:

  • to monitor the overall progress of road safety in the Union;
  • to collect, interpret and disseminate information relating to all aspects of road safety;
  • to ensure that the most efficient practices are promoted throughout the whole of Europe;
  • to collect information on offences giving rise to serious accidents in the Union;
  • to support research.

The main elements of the programme for 1997-2001 are the following:

  • a Commission Recommendation which acknowledges the high financial cost of road accidents by applying cost-benefit methods of evaluation to road safety measures;
  • an integrated information system for the European Union which would consolidate information on accident statistics and data on the implementation of road safety measures, research etc.
  • measures aimed at combating driving while in a state of fatigue or under the influence of alcohol, medicines or drugs;
  • the application of technology and telematics in order to increase driving safety;
  • the co-ordination and promotion of a safety classification system so as to give consumers scientifically accurate information on vehicle safety features.

Related Acts

Council resolution of 26 June 2000 on the improvement of road safety [Official Journal C 218 of 31.7.2000].

The Council welcomes the publication of the Progress Report (see point 8 below), which forms part of the second Community action programme for the promotion of road safety in the European Union for the period 1997 – 2001. The Council finds that progress needs to be made in three areas:

  1. In terms of legislation, the Council proposes to extend the compulsory use of seatbelts, to extend the scope of the legislation on speed limitation devices to include vehicles weighing over 3.5 tonnes, to introduce legislation requiring motorbike and moped users to wear helmets, and to act in relation to a maximum blood-alcohol level for drivers;
  2. In terms of research, the Council wishes to pursue efforts under the existing research programmes (evaluation of new car models, influence of drugs and medicinal products on drivers, telematic systems, safety systems, etc.) and to initiate other research (secondary effects of air bags, effects of making it compulsory to wear a helmet, etc.);The Council wishes to promote information campaigns and exchange of information on road safety.

Priorities in EU road safety: Progress Report and Ranking of Actions. Communication from the Commission of 17 March 2000 [COM (2000) 125 Not published in the Official Journal].
The Communication takes up suggestions from the Council and the European Parliament to issue a progress report on the Action Programme. It gives a ranking to future measures at Community level and makes a recommendation to decision-makers at all levels to give more weight to the fact that the cost of preventing accidents is generally much lower than the economic cost of the casualties and damage they cause.
The Commission considers the current Action Programme (1997 – 2001) a success. Much has been achieved in the strategic fields of improving enforcement of traffic rules and regulations, raising public awareness of road safety, and the gathering and dissemination of information on safety issues.
A multi-criteria analysis followed by a cost-effectiveness assessment of the actions listed in the 1997-2001 Programme has led to the definition of the following short and medium-term priorities in road safety in the EU:

  • Continue to work with and develop the European New Car Assessment Programme, (EuroNCAP);
  • Campaigns and legislation on seat belts and child restraints;
  • Recommendation to the Member States on maximum blood alcohol levels in traffic;
  • Legislation on speed limiters for light commercial vehicles;
  • Develop guidelines for ‘Black Spot’ management (places with a concentration of accidents) and the design of ‘forgiving’ roadsides (i.e. less likely to cause injury in the event of an accident);
  • Legislation on safer car fronts for pedestrians and cyclists.

Beyond these key priorities the Communication lists a further five measures for which more research into cost-effectiveness is desirable: medical standards for driving licences; standards for driving tests; daytime running lights; effects of medicines on driver behaviour; post-accident care.
Three supporting measures also receive a high priority: the CARE accident statistics data base; an integrated information system; research into vehicle standards and telematics.
Finally, the Communication contains a Recommendation from the Commission encouraging the governments and local and regional authorities of the Member States to establish the practice of calculating the costs and effects of road safety measures, to increase investments in these measures and to develop mechanisms that will enable the benefits of road safety measures to be felt more directly by those taking the decisions and bearing the costs of their implementation.

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