TISPOL is committed to reducing death, serious injury and crime on Europe's roads. Its activities are guided by research, intelligence, information and experience, to produce measurable results that contribute to reducing casualties and making roads safer.

Road safety developments and challenges in Estonia

An interview with Villu Vane of the Estonian Road Administration: 

What have been the most significant changes and improvements of recent years?

Recent years have been very successful. Since 2007 there was a general decrease of fatalities. In 2010, we had 78 people killed in road crashes. 2009 was not so successful – we had 101. Our road safety specialists say that 2010 was not normal for our country. Rhere is of course strategic planning. A road safety programme adopted in 2003 runs until 2015. The general goal was to achieve not more than 100 fatalities per year.

In 2011 we were preparing a new plan for the programme and decided to change this goal. It is now an average of 75 fatalities annually across three years. By 2015, we have to have less than 75 fatalities on average per year.

Has driver behaviour changed in Estonia?

Speaking about drivers in general, we can say that behaviour has changed over the past ten years. We have annual research to assess this behaviour, for example in speeding and the use of seatbelts. We see great changes in behaviour of road users.

Why has this happened?

We think that education is only one part of this result. Of course, traffic policing and the work which has been done by police is the main reason why we get such results. To some extent, our road safety management system is not perfect, but those steps which have been done recently play a great role in the traffic safety programme. We have a national traffic commission. We try to systemise the whole traffic safety work in our country. The big advantage is that, as a smaller country, we have four main regions and many possibilities to improve road safety management in the whole country.

How are your seatbelt statistics shaping up?

In 1999 we had 65% compliance for drivers. That has gone to 98% in 2011. Rear-seat occupant compliance levels were 14% in 1999 and is now 89.5%. The last traffic safety campaign was for back-seat passengers and was very successful.

Do you go for shock tactics in your campaigns?

Our Campaign specialists try to avoid shock tactics and go for something perhaps a little softer but memorable. So our campaigns are much softer than the campaigns of other countries.

Do you work under good law?

The law is just an instrument. Still, in the previous year we had great changes in our traffic law. Last summer there were many new amendments concerning road safety. We think that this Traffic Act works, but still we try to improve it according to needs. So if we see something that is not correct, we try to change it.

 

What do you do regarding drink-driving?

Every driver stopped is checked for alcohol. This started in 2002, at which time there were alcohol offences among 3.3% of drivers. In 2011 this had dropped to 0.6% of drivers.

However, the problem is now that the number of controlled drivers is less than in 2010. So to some extent the results are not objective. Of course, the number of people who were impaired by alcohol – it is less because the whole number is lower. But according to the police, the number of drink drivers caught by the police has increased by 40% in 2011. In 2011 the number of drink drivers caught by the police increased by 40% compared with 2010.

How effective has automatic speed control proved?

In 2011, a complete system of automated speed control was introduced in Estonia, on national roads outside built-up areas. The percentage of drivers exceeding the speed limit on a specific main road between Tallinn and Tartu has decreased from 17.9% to 9.4%. Also there have been reductions in instances of speeding on the road between Tallinn and Parnu. However, the road from Tallinn to the Russian border has seen no reductions because there are no cameras.

Is that the case on all roads with no enforcement?

On secondary roads without camera enforcement, the number of drivers exceeding the speed has increased from 15.2% in 2008 to 15.5% in 2011.

You have a recent problem with cyclists and pedestrians. What has caused that and how are you tackling it?

The problem concerns pedestrians and bicyclists and single vehicle accidents.  There has been a sharp increase in pedestrian fatalities. The statistics showed the accidents with pedestrians and single vehicles decreased until 2010, but with an increase since then. The majority of accidents with pedestrians occurred in built-up areas, but the consequences of this were drastic, and there have even been some fatalities in built-up areas.

Do you have details of pedestrian crashes?

In 2011, one third of all pedestrian accidents occurred on unsignalled pedestrian crossings.12% of accidents occurred on signal-controlled pedestrian crossings  and 16% of pedestrian accidents occurred at intersections. One third of all accident occurred on stretches between intersections, meaning that people were crossing the street in inappropriate places.

Is there support from the media for your work?

If there’s an accident, it’s always on the news. Our co-operation with the media is close, although sometimes their view on the problem is different from ours. For example a couple of days ago, TV news was asking about the truck safety situation in Estonia. The question involved a false statement that traffic safety in Estonia has decreased over many years.

Sometimes the media may formulate their topics to make the subject a ‘hot one’ for society, but actually the situation is not as they sometimes try to show it. In general, we co-operate with the media and try to reach our road users through the messages in the media. It’s always better that they talk about it than if they do not.

What are your thoughts on long-term opportunities and difficulties?

The largest work we are going to do is the speed camera project which we would like to expand. Again, Estonia’s advantage is its side. We don’t know how much time it will take to roll this out but we see it as an important project. Some great changes in driver education have already occurred. We had some new approaches in driver education, specifically in winter driving skills, which has moved from the second stage of driver education to the first stage. So they will learn winter driving skills earlier in their driving careers. When they receive their provisional driving licence, one part of winter driving is already learnt by them and they have already learnt to drive in winter.

You're using a psychological intervention for young offenders. How does that work?

If a novice driver has been stopped by the police and his licence taken away, so he has to go to a psychological education course where the specific problem is explored at a psychological level. This system was introduced just at the end of 2011. We don’t know what the numbers will be, but we have between 20,000 and 30,000 new drivers each year.  The psychologists who deal with these young drivers will need to attend a course and obtain a certificate to state that they have learnt about the appropriate issues.

Mainly the system was introduced because in other countries the system is part of the demerit point system. We don’t have a demerit point system. We have decided to introduce the psychological part and then to incorporate it into the demerit point system in the future. A demerit points system project was introduced to our ministers but they decided that implementation would come later. There is no concrete date. Our legislature has to be prepared to introduce the demerit point system.

We also know that in the European Commission there is a project looking at the demerit points systems across Europe – and we await that research. The project ends in September of this year.

You have small casualty figures. In summary, are you happy with where you are in that respect?

The number killed in Estonia annually is relatively small. Around 100. We would like in future to specify the range of injuries. Today we have no specific data, so if we could specify tends in injuries, we could deal with the causes. We want to go further.