Cuts to police enforcement across Europe doubly damaging for road safety

Published Mon, 20/06/2016 - 12:46

Cuts to police enforcement across Europe doubly damaging for road safety

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 the European Transport Safety Council, authors of two new reports on road safety.

More than 26,000 people died on EU roads last year, the first increase since 2001 according to the ETSC annual road safety performance index (PIN) report. 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, according to the researchers.

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.”

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 the UK, where deaths have also been slow to reduce, the number of tickets issued fell after 2010 when government cuts affected enforcement levels but tickets issued are starting to increase again. 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.

Some countries are still making progress on road safety. At a conference to be held today in Brussels, ETSC will present its annual PIN road safety award to Norway. The country is at the top of the 2015 European road safety league with the lowest road mortality at 23 deaths per million population. Norway also cut road deaths over the last five years by 44% - the biggest reduction of any country tracked by ETSC’s PIN programme, and reduced deaths last year by 20% - also the best annual improvement. 

TISPOL general secretary Ruth Purdie said: “Police enforcement is a vital component of an overall road safety strategy. Reductions to road policing numbers in recent years send a message to drivers that they are less likely to be caught speeding,d rink-driving, not wearing seatbelts or generally not conforming with the rules that have been put there for their safety.

“We echo ETSC’s clear warning that reductions in road death and serious injury will not be forthcoming unless there is a new commitment to policing the roads. Levels of compliance improve when police are there as an effective deterrent to risk-taking behaviour. When compliance improves, there will be fewer collisions.
“We must all work smarter, embrace new technology and form effective partnerships to ensure the maximum impact and the best outcome for all road users."