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How to end the massacre on the roads

Editor : Fondation Robert Schuman
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France, with nearly 8000 killed on the roads in 2002, is still one of the European countries the most effected by road accidents. (it is the primary cause of death for the 20-30 year olds).

President Jacques Chirac has turned the battle against insecurity on the roads into a priority of government action. He accepted to write the Preface of the Note produced by the Robert Schuman Foundation on this subject and written by Béatrice Houchard; he reminds us that there is no element of fate in that so many French die on the roads: "to put a stop to road violence means of course being determined and mobilising our country's public authorities, as well as undertaking action across Europe in order to harmonise national policies, develop exchanges and respond to the need for harmonisation."

"The French Scandal"

With statistics in hand Béatrice Houchard shows (22 people are killed every day on French roads) that the first real results were obtained after coercive steps were taken: obligatory seat belts, speed limits, MOT's. Hence the number of deaths on the roads fell from 17,000 in 1970 to less than 10,000 in 1991. But since then however these figures have stagnated and above all, the seriousness of the accidents has tended to increase.

Most accidents are due to:

·incivility and irresponsibility at the wheel;

·the state of the network, the motorway being four times safer,

·leaving night clubs on Sunday mornings, speed and alcohol being the explosive cocktail at the end of these evenings;

·lack of care (75 % of road victims die less than 10km from home);

Speed is one of the main causes of the road massacre; a 10% speed reduction would lead to a 40% drop in fatal accidents.

Another scourge: alcohol, responsible for 31% of fatal accidents. The tolerated threshold of 0,5 g/litre of blood (the equivalent of two glasses of wine) doubles the risk of an accident. Drugs and medicines change the quality of the reflexes just like alcohol does. A new and extremely repressive law. (a two year prison sentence and 4,500 € fine for any driver whose blood test shows that he has used substances such as drugs) has been adopted.

In fact, in spite of the recent improvement in statistics, France, that alone records 20% of European road deaths, is still Europe's bad boy.

The situation in Europe

The approach taken to road safety differs in the Fifteen Union countries. Each State has its own highway code and its own regulations:
·The speed limits variy from one country to another together with variable levels of rigour and civic sense;
·The wearing of the seat belt is obligatory everywhere since the European directive in 1991 but is not respected in the same way;
·The level of alcohol tolerated in the blood ranges from 0,2g/l (Sweden) to 0,8g/l (Luxembourg, Italy, UK);
·The points driving licence system was adopted in France in 1992; it also exists in Germany, Greece and UK;
·The permanent withdrawal of the driving licence exists only in Belgium and UK;
·The withdrawal of the licence with the possibility of taking it again later exists in all the other European countries but its application is not the same everywhere.

Three model countries:


541 deaths in 2001. These good results are a question of mentality but this country works very hard, especially on:

·The study of the cause of death,

·The state of the road network,


·Repression with the use of new technologies in the areas of blood alcohol levels and speed,

·The development of the ISA system (adaptive speed controller).

The Netherlands

The number of those killed on the roads was halved in 15 years thanks to the establishment of a policy focused on three priorities:

·education with particular efforts made in raising the awareness of children,


·equipment : the road network allows for two types of road only: dual carriageways or motorways and urban networks with speed limits.


With a determined and continuous policy, a system of control-punishment, the UK has obtained results that are much better than France.

·Of course young English people still go to pubs but in town. They leave earlier when public transport is still available. They rarely drive in an inebriated state!

·The dissuasive effect of checking on the English, who were already sensible at the wheel has paid off all round.

·In terms of driving licences: they are much more severe.

Objective : Halve the number of deaths in Europe?

The Commission adopted a programme of action 1997-2001 : "Promote road security in the EU." the desire to integrate the socio-economic dimension of mortality on the road lies at the heart of the programme.

In March 2000 the Commission picked out some priority measures:

·Continuation and deepening of the evaluation programme of new models of cars,
·extension of legislation on speed controllers,
·strengthening of campaigns to encourage the wearing of the seat belt,
·improvement of the fronts of vehicles,
·recommendations in terms of blood alcohol levels,
· definition of a means to manage "black spots".

A European Charter on road safety will be adopted shortly and Member States will be invited to undertake concrete steps.

The arrival of new technologies should however make it possible to make considerable progress and decrease the number of road deaths from 41,000 to 20,000 on European roads.

Vehicles will be increasingly safer and equipped with electronically to help driving. These new technologies will enable a new approach in policies of urbanism and planning.

To conclude the author believes that the encouraging results obtained over the last 6 months will oblige all governments not to alleviate the pressure.

She emphasises the need to abolish borders and to attain overall harmonisation across Europe: sanctions, legislation, regulations and statistics.
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Béatrice Houchard
Jacques Chirac
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