The European Commission released new figures on 20 April 2021 which show road deaths fell to a record low in 2020 as traffic volumes dropped significantly. The figures have been published on the occasion of the EU Road Safety Results Conference. The conference brings together policymakers, civil society and road safety practitioners to assess the state of play of road safety in the EU and how best to take the next steps towards ‘Vision Zero’.
According to the preliminary figures released today, almost 4,000 fewer people lost their lives on EU roads in 2020 compared to 2019. An estimated 18,800 people were killed in a road crash last year, an unprecedented annual fall of 17% on 2019. However, this was less than the sharp falls in traffic levels across the EU.
Over the previous decade between 2010 and 2020, the number of road deaths dropped by 36%. This was short of the target of 50% fewer deaths that had been set for that decade. However, with 42 road deaths per 1 million inhabitants, the EU compares very favourably with the world average of more than 180. Based on the preliminary figures, 18 Member States registered their lowest ever number of road fatalities in 2020. Whilst deaths fell by an average of 17% compared to 2019, the reduction was far from uniform with the largest decreases (of 20% or more) occurring in Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Spain, France, Croatia, Italy, Hungary, Malta and Slovenia. In contrast, five Member States (Estonia, Ireland, Latvia, Luxembourg and Finland) recorded an increase in fatalities although the number in small countries tends to fluctuate from year to year.
The Stockholm Declaration of February 2020 set the groundwork for further global political commitment with the UN General Assembly Resolution on road safety proclaiming the period 2021–2030 as the Second Decade of Action for Road Safety. This included a new reduction target for 2030.
In this respect, the EU had already taken the lead and set itself a new 50% reduction target for deaths – and, for the first time, also serious injuries - by 2030. This was set out in the Commission's Strategic Action Plan on Road Safety and EU road safety policy framework 2021-2030 in 2018 and 2019.
The plan also set out ambitious road safety plans to reach zero road deaths by 2050 – ‘Vision Zero’. This included setting out key performance indicators for safe roads and roadsides; safe vehicles; safe road use, including safe speed, sober driving, preventing driving while distracted and use of safety belts and protective equipment; and fast and effective post-crash care.
Commissioner for Transport, Adina Vălean stated: “While European roads remain the safest in the world, we have fallen short of our reduction target for the last decade in spite of a large decrease in 2020. Concerted action is needed to prevent a return to pre-COVID levels. In our Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy, we have restated our commitment to implementing the EU road safety strategy and bringing down the death toll for all modes of transport close to zero”.
Impact of the pandemic hard to measure
While lower traffic volumes, as result of the pandemic, had a clear, albeit unmeasurable, effect on the number of road fatalities, preliminary data in the US show that fatalities spiked in 2020 despite lower traffic volumes. Indeed, evidence in some EU countries also points to an increase in risk-taking behaviour, in particular speeding, during lockdown periods.
Impact on urban mobility as a result of COVID-19
Cycling has experienced a significant rise in popularity and many cities around the world (temporarily) reallocated road space to cyclists and pedestrians. This encouraging development can have a significant positive impact on air quality and climate change and at the same time creates new road safety challenges. EU-wide, around 70% of road fatalities in urban areas involve vulnerable road users which includes pedestrians, motorcyclist and cyclists. Tackling road safety in cities is therefore a key area of focus and the Commission wants to ensure that road safety is taken into account at all stages of urban mobility planning. Road Safety will be an important element of the new Urban Mobility Initiative to be brought forward by the Commission later this year. In this regard, two European capitals, Helsinki and Oslo, achieved the milestone of zero pedestrian and cyclist deaths in 2019, citing speed reductions as essential to progress.
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See the original press release here.
EU Urban Road Safety Award
The applications for the EU Urban Road Safety Award 2021 are now open. This award rewards local authorities for implementing measures, in the spirit of the internationally recognised 'Safe System' concept to improve road safety. The applications are open until 31 October 2021.
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