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Monday, 15 May, 2000, 14:14 GMT 15:14 UK
Europe: should we make the roads safer?

Although the weather for Europe's public holidays may not be predictable - one thing sadly tends to be predictable: the high number of fatal accidents on the roads.

Some statistics: in France over Easter - 90 dead. Over the Mayday weekend - 98 dead. It's our Europewide debate - should Europe do more to make the continent's roads safer.

We brought together Catherine Guilyardi, a journalist in Paris and Rudi Linde of the German drivers association, ADAC. Rudi Linde first - surely since Germany has no speed limits on its autobahns, it's almost a green light for drivers to put themselves and others at risk.

HAVE YOUR SAY

It's mostly the undisciplined driving that's the main reason for fatalities on Europe's roads

Jeroen Poels, Netherlands
Whenever there is an issue on road-safety people will always look to Germany and its no-speed-limit Autobahns. However, the majority of fatal accidents are not on the Autobahns in Germany nor any Motorway in Europe, but on the smaller country roads with no divided traffic.
People tend to drive those roads too fast, and don't see speeding as an offence. Furthermore most people can't judge the speed of oncoming traffic when they try to overtake another car, and this usually is the main cause of fatal head-on collisions on this kind of roads. (And I myself have had a narrow escape when a car was overtaking another car and kept going on the left lane toward me. I had to brake and drive into the grass.) And head on collisions are twice as fast as people release.
For instance: the allowed speed on the Netherlands on most country roads is 80kmh (50mph). If two cars crash head-on, and neither of them were speeding, this can be compared to crashing at 160kmh into a car that's standing still. I agree that some roads can be made safer, but it's mostly the undisciplined driving that's the main reason for fatalities on Europe's roads.
Jeroen Poels, Netherlands


The concept of educating people to the consequences of an action seems to work well

Mike Hammer, Germany
Australia virtually eliminated smoking and dramatically reduced road deaths by an advertising campaign with graphic footage of the lead up to and consequences of foolish behaviour. One particularly memorable add shows a young girl going through the emotional trauma of learning to walk again.
An anti-smoking one showed the black goo being squeezed from a dummy's lungs after a cigarette. The concept of educating people to the consequences of an action seems to work well in Australia. Perhaps it should be tried in France.
Mike Hammer, Germany

Increase the fines for speeding and make sure that police cameras are more prevalent. Most drivers drive up to 5 mph faster than the limit and see this as acceptable, if the fines were imposed as soon as the limit was broken (and enforced strictly), then people would drive more slowly just to make sure that they won't get fined. Speed IS the main contribution to fatal accidents. Remember, kill your speed not a person. If this altruistic message is not working, the financial one will have to be used.
Daniel, England, England


Standards need to be raised across Europe, to bring all drivers to the same level.

Robert Castle, Bulgaria
Driver education is the key to reducing road accidents - the level of training is far too low given the importance and potential harm a car can do in the wrong hands.
With more drivers travelling abroad, the driving test in each country should include training in driving on the other side of the road as well as differences in road signs and traffic rules.
Standards need to be raised across Europe, to bring all drivers to the same level. Tests should be tougher, and licences should be renewable every 10 years or so, with a refresher course essential before they are re-issued. Making the roads safer, especially in places like Bulgaria, is also important, but a bad driver on a safe road is more dangerous than a good driver on a bad road.
Robert Castle, Bulgaria

Too many car drivers have a cavalier attitude to speed. They seem to change personality when they get into their cars and many become aggressive. Speed is the single biggest contributor to casualties on our roads. High speeds also degrade the environment and affect people's health and quality of life. The UK has a reasonable accident record in comparison with continental Europe but even here there is always room for improvement. It is worth noting that UK motorways which have a 70mph speed limit have a significantly better safety record than other types of roads, especially in urban areas. Perhaps a similar system could improve the level of accidents on German autobahns. It seems reckless to have no limit at all.
John Nevitt, UK


Many car drivers' lives are saved every year by the steel crash barriers that are to be found everywhere along our motorways. That is a good thing.

Peter, Netherlands
Many car drivers' lives are saved every year by the steel crash barriers that are to be found everywhere along our motorways. That is a good thing. But they can cut a downed motorcyclist to pieces, and they do - dozens, even hundreds, every year Doubling them, that is two rails one above the other, would go a long way towards reducing this danger.
Oil and diesel fuel spills can make a road surface as slippery as grease, especially in the wet. They are easy to prevent, by car and lorry drivers themselves (do not overfill the fuel tank!) and by redesigning engines and tank filler openings. Some white markings on roads (especially the older glued plastic type) can also be very slippery in wet conditions. There are still some left, and they should be replaced.
Peter, Netherlands

I think Bill Nicholas has been living in Germany for too long as he is obviously out of touch. DETR figures indicate that 1,200 people are killed on British Roads every year and over 100,000 are injured. DETR say that the biggest cause of these casualties is due to "excessive and inappropriate speed". His figure of 4% is clearly wide of the mark.
John, London


Investment in making roads safer by governments makes economic sense.

Dave Lock, Wales
We'd be crazy not to. The cost of accidents in terms of cost to business through the traffic jams generated and the cost of treating those injured through our largely public health systems means investment in making roads safer by governments makes economic sense, as well as reducing the human cost of accidents. The answer doesn't entirely rely on improving infrastructure, but in accidents such as those that occurred in the Mont Blanc Tunnel not to long ago, it can make a big difference.
Dave Lock, Wales

We don't need "better roads." We need better police enforcement, and stricter insurance policies that punish people with too many traffic violations.
AG, Greece

No. It is the drivers who should be made safer. Air-bags, side-impact-systems and the like make the road more dangerous due to increasing the feelings of security. If you want safer roads it should be a large poisoned tipped metal spike that is on the steering wheel, not an air-bag. Then everyone would drive with due care and attention.
NM, UK


Less than 4% of accidents in the UK are due exclusively to excessive speed. What causes accidents, is driving inappropriately for the current conditions.

Bill Nicholas, UK Resident Germany
There will always be things we can do to make our roads safer, but the simple truth is that it's the drivers that are the problem not the roads. It is a common myth that speed causes accidents, this is not technically true. Less than 4% of accidents in the UK are due exclusively to excessive speed. What causes accidents, is driving inappropriately for the current conditions. Driving at 80km on a country road in the wet is far more dangerous than driving at 150km on a motorway.
Germany's autobahn's are not as good as Germans think they are. They need better lighting, "cats eyes" and better signs. However the artificially low speed limit on British motorways encourages dangerous driving, while British speed limits on country lanes and residential areas are often too high.
My solution is to change the wording on the British driving licence from "Full" to "Beginner" hopefully encouraging drivers to learn to drive safely whatever the speed limits or conditions.
Bill Nicholas, UK Resident Germany

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