Declines in the level of police enforcement of traffic offences are contributing to Europe’s failure to cut the numbers dying in road collisions, according to two new reports on road safety.
The European Transport Safety Council’s road safety performance index report says more than 26,000 people died on EU roads last year, the first increase since 2001. It says exceeding speed limits, drink or distracted driving and a failure to wear a seat belt are still the leading causes of death and serious injury across Europe.
In a separate report on enforcement, ETSC found that, in over half the countries where data is available, the number of tickets issued over the last five years for use of a mobile phone while driving has reduced, suggesting lower levels of enforcement across Europe.
Antonio Avenoso, executive director of the European Transport Safety Council, said: “Cuts to police enforcement are doubly damaging. Fewer dangerous drivers are caught, and overall perception of the risk of being caught also decreases. While there is increasing pressure to reprioritise policing budgets across Europe, it makes no sense to cut back on road safety. 26,000 are still dying each year on our roads, and the numbers will not start to decrease again without concerted action.”
In the UK the number of tickets issued fell after 2010 when government cuts affected enforcement levels but tickets issued are starting to increase again. Sweden, the Netherlands and Finland are among countries that have reported falls in speeding tickets issued. These countries have also seen some of the biggest slow-downs in reducing road deaths since 2010. In Germany, another country with a slowly-reducing death rate, there is no national data available on tickets issued, depriving policy makers of essential information on the effectiveness of measures to reduce speeding.
On drink driving, half of the countries that provided data showed a decrease in the number of enforcement checks since 2010, and half showed an increase. The number of alcohol road-side checks grew by 39% each year in Poland, 24% in Estonia and 12% in Portugal. The number of alcohol checks dropped by 13% annually in Sweden, 10% in Cyprus and 5% in England and Wales. It is estimated that up to 2% of distance travelled in the EU is driven with an illegal blood alcohol concentration but a quarter of all road deaths in the EU are alcohol related.
David Davies, executive director of PACTS, the UK’s Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, said: “This report from ETSC shows the importance of adequate levels of enforcement to maintain road safety. It adds to the recent report from the Transport Select Committee which called for a strengthening of road policing, something widely supported by the public.
“The Europe-wide comparison of traffic law enforcement activity suggests that the UK motorist is not unreasonably penalised as some would suggest. It is worrying that the amount of breath-testing carried out by the police in England and Wales is not only low by European standards but has declined since 2010, despite no reduction in drink drive deaths. It is regrettable that data for breath tests and speeding offences are not available for Scotland.”