25 September 2008
Excessive speed is the most frequent cause of accidents
ETSC lecture / bfu Forum on the topic of “Speed” in Berne
Driving fast or too fast is the cause of one third of all accidents in Europe. At a joint meeting today in Berne, experts from the European Transport Safety Council ETSC and the bfu – Council for Accident Prevention analyzed causes and discussed measures on this core problem in road safety.
“There are still more than 1.2 million annual road accident fatalities worldwide today. This is 3,300 people a day or around 140 an hour!“ These alarming figures were presented by the bfu’s main speaker, Raphael Denis Huguenin, at the start of his talk. “In one in three road accident fatalities, excessive speed is at least a contributory factor. Campaigns, programmes and measures must therefore be consistently encouraged and demanded to counteract this key accident factor.” Huguenin went on to report that an increase in speed of 5% leads to approximately 10% more accidents involving injured persons, 16% involving severely injured persons and 25% involving fatalities. In contrast to motorsports, the speed in road traffic should not be an end in itself but should be the appropriate measure for implementing safe mobility. According to Huguenin, the appropriate speed is thus one that permits the requisite amount of mobility and guarantees the desired level of safety.
Reality sometimes proves to be different, however. Huguenin: “Exceeding the speed limit is a mass crime. In Switzerland, speed limits in built-up areas are exceeded by an average of 20% of car drivers. The figure is even higher outside built-up areas where around 25% exceed the speed limit and 40% on motorways.“ Young men, in particular, are the main offenders. Most of these car drivers do not expect to be checked by the police nor do they feel they are taking any major risks. On the contrary, they are convinced that their mental and driving skills permit them to exceed the speed limit without increasing the risk of their having an accident. A fatal error as the figures show ... Put another way: If all road users in Switzerland were to keep within the legal speed limits, approximately 60 fewer people would die each year.
Klaus Machata from the Austrian Road Safety Board (KfV) looked into the question of which technical measures might reduce speed. Among other things, he was in favour of “self-explaning roads”, which should make posted speed limits and police presence on roadsides largely redundant as well as “Intelligent Speed Assistance” that permanently displays the prevailing speed limit in the vehicle for drivers. He also considers variable speed limits on motorways to be meaningful when the reason is stated and “section control” as it is called. This measures the average speed of vehicles, not at a single point, but along a stretch of several kilometres. Steve Stradling from the British Transport Research Institute (TRI) put in a nutshell what many of the forum attendees were probably thinking: “It is deplorable that we are a very long way from rendering speeding as socially unacceptable as drink driving.”