‘Unprecedented’ drop in EU road deaths because of COVID lockdowns

A huge reduction in traffic because of COVID lockdowns was a major factor in an ‘unprecedented’ fall in road deaths across the European Union – many of whom are children.

Figures by the European Transport Safety Council (ETSC) show a 17 per cent fall in road fatalities over the past year, with almost all countries showing a significant slowdown.

Compared to the previous year there were 3,900 fewer deaths and that, says the ETSC, is most likely down to the COVID travel restrictions which led to virtually every EU country imposing strict stay-at-home orders, leaving roads free from all-but essential traffic.

The ETSC says the ‘extraordinary’ response to the pandemic by the world’s authorities shows what can be achieved when people work together for a common cause – so now we have to think about how we can apply those principles to road safety.

But this dramatic year-on-year fall is only part of the story, and even with these figures included, deaths have fallen by 37 per cent over the past 10 years, which is some way short of the EU’s 50 per cent target by 2020. Only one EU member – Greece – exceeded this target, with a 54 per cent reduction over those ten years. Norway, a non-EU country, achieved a 55 per cent drop. But big challenges still remain; for example in France, where in 2020, the 0-13 age group was the only road user group for which road deaths did not fall.

Applying the COVID response to the challenges of road safety

Antonio Avenoso, Executive Director of ETSC, said: “Road safety is, in the end, a public health issue. Covid has killed 3.5 million people worldwide.  Over the last decade, at least 13 million have died on the world’s roads. The extraordinary and necessary global response to the Covid pandemic has shown how policymakers and society as a whole can act when most people are working towards a common goal. Can we apply the same focus to the challenges of road safety?”

A total of 18,844 people lost their lives in road traffic in the EU in 2020, 10,847 fewer than in 2010. The ETSC says that  56,305 lives were saved on EU roads compared to the number who would have been killed if deaths had stayed at the same level as in 2010.  And according to EU research, the saving in human costs resulting from this reduction in deaths was valued at some €156 billion.

Over the ten years, Portugal, Spain, Croatia, Belgium, Slovenia, Italy, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Denmark, Austria and Hungary achieved a decrease above the EU average of 37 per cent. The progress was slowest in the UK and The Netherlands, with a with a 14 per cent and five per cent fall respectively.

There is still much to do

There are other examples highlighted by the ESTC; in Slovenia for example, the use of restraints in cars for children aged between eight and 14 increased to 90 per cent in 2018, compared to 70 per cent in 2010.

“Success is not guaranteed – after months of lockdowns and obeying strict rules, are we set for a decade of rule-breaking and excess, another ‘roaring twenties’?,” added Avenoso. “Or will we learn from this moment that life on earth is fragile, and needs to be protected? Europe needs political leadership more than ever. Every road user has the right and responsibility to move around without risking their own life or the lives of others. Policymakers have a responsibility to build the Safe System that helps protect everyone. Will they approach it with the energy and dedication that many have approached the challenges of Covid? “

Click here for the figures in full.

Author: Simon Weedy

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