It will take you 2 minutes to read the hole article but at the end it will change the way you look at everyday traffic.
Transfagarasan picture from Wikipedia
We have one of the most beautiful roads in the world (picture above) according to Jeremy Clarkson and everyone who has been there can probably confirm this.
We also have according to statistics from www.worldlifeexpectancy.com one of the highest death rates related to car accidents from the E.U. countries. From every 100 000 people approx. 13 die in car accidents every year in our country. That means that more than 2000 people die every year just because they took a chance to go somewhere, twice as much as the average in E.U. This number does not include the ones who are badly injured and have to suffer all their life the consequences of a terrible accident. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), road traffic accidents kill more people around the world than malaria, and are the leading cause of death for young people aged five to 29 – especially in developing countries.
In order to better understand this worrying phenomenon, I would like to look a little bit about what seem to be the main causes of car accidents.
According to official reports excessive speeding or speed unsuited to road conditions (25 %) pedestrians crossing the street in unmarked places (18%) and vehicles hitting pedestrians on crossings (12 %) are the main factors that lead to accidents.
In my opinion speeding and speed unsuited to road conditions are 2 different things, because the first one is caused mainly by irresponsible people who either want to show off thinking they are Fernando Alonso driving at the Monaco Grand-Prix or by people who are late for something, most of the times because of poor infrastructure or because they left too late in the first place. Off course this 2 situations can easily be avoided if we know that we are not Fernando Alonso, Monaco is not in Romania and that in average we will get every morning to work in approximately the same time so if we include a 10 min buffer into our program we will be never be late.
However for the second category, speed unsuited to road conditions, the answer is not so simple because most of the times this conditions are not known by the drivers, yes we can see it is cold or raining outside, but we can’t see how big is a hole filled with water or the thin ice formed on the surface of the road at night. On the same note it is hard to say that pedestrians and drivers that hit them are the only ones responsible for these accidents if they do not have sufficient crossings or the ones that exist are not clearly marked. Off course they should have been more careful but maybe it is also our job to make them aware of the dangers they face.
So what actions are being taken around the world to reduce this number?
The UN launched in 2011 its “decade for action” on road safety to cut the 1.3 million deaths on the road each year. The European Commission lunched last year a public debate concerning the future strategy for road safety. The Romanian Government will also lunch this year new driving regulations with increased fines and penalties especially for speeding and not stopping at pedestrian crossings.
This are all good actions and I fully agree that penalties should be applied to those who drive irresponsibly and put their life an others at great risk. I am also confident that some improvement will come out of this actions however I don’t think that the improvement will be significant or sustainable.
The reason for my skepticism is the research in behavioral psychology. As Daniel Kahneman, winner of Nobel prize, said in his book ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’, it has been proven in years of research that rewards for improved performance work better every time than punishment of mistake. The explanation why punishment SEEMS to get results it’s because, most of the times, when we punish someone the person who has been punished was already doing something very bad so whatever he does after that will seem like an improvement to us. In fact this improvement is not dew to the punishment but it is just a regression to the mean, a normal part of life that would have happened without our intervention.
Another statistic that supports my skepticism towards penalties is the correlation between the fines amount, speed limits and number of deaths per year. As an example we can take Germany (5,7 Deaths/100k), Denmark (5,4 Deaths/100k) France (6,6 Deaths/100k) Holland (4 Deaths/100k) and Romania (13 Deaths/100k) (Data from 2011). The speed limits in this countries are almost the same with Germany as an exception because on many highways it has no speed limits. Since Germany is the only exception we cannot conclude with 100% certainty that in fact speed limits alone do not make the road safer and are required only in certain driving conditions but it sure seems that way.
So if speed limits are not the main reasons maybe the difference is in the amount of the fines: All countries have relatively high fines, compared to average income in that country, with Denmark and France fining more drastically speeding, however the difference in the fine amount is not reflected in the number of deaths as Germany has almost the same rate of mortality as Denmark. Also if we look at Netherlands, which has one of the busiest traffic networks in Europe and average fines, it’s one of the safest place to drive according to statistics, similar to Switzerland with (3,8 deaths/100k).
This long list of statistical data can give us a clue about the results of higher fines and increased punishment. But if punishment is not the main solution what other things are the West E.U. countries doing better than us to get almost 3 times less fatalities on their roads? While driving in many different countries across Europe I noticed 2 main differences and I would like, with your help, to raise awareness about this things so in the future we can all drive on SAFER roads. This differences are related in my opinion to infrastructure and public awareness about safety.
Road surface quality plays a big role in a safe driving environment but also the lack of road signs can have an equally important role. The missing road markings create so many near misses and dangerous situations which I am sure you are all familiar with. For instance when you try to avoid an obstacle on the road and almost hit the incoming traffic, because of a missing triangle to show the obstacle, when the lines on the road do not exist and you realize suddenly you are too close to the edge, when there is someone crossing the street on a place where used to be a road crossing but now the signs on the tarmac are not visible and you have to break suddenly forcing the cars behind you to do the same and the list can go on…All the West European countries have very good road markings especially on dangerous area because if nothing is there to warn us about an upcoming dangerous situation how can we prepare for it?
We don not have good road markings but we can look on the bright side and be happy that we have the chance to install the newest and safest technologies available.
1. Glow in the dark paint for the roads. In Britain Pro-Teq has developed Starpath which is a sprayable coating of light-absorbing particles that harvests ultra-violet rays from the sun during the day and dramatically lights up like a starry sky at night. The veneer is non-reflective, anti-slip and waterproof, and can be applied to cement, wood, tarmac or other solid surfaces. In Holland designers at the Dutch firm Studio Roosegaarde are the architects behind the country’s new transportation redesign. Their first measure is to paint roadway lines over with photo-luminescent powder, making lanes glow brightly in the dark.
2. Traffic signs that can absorb shock from a crash where developed in Britain and road signs for pedestrians crossing powered by solar energy are already being installed in many parts of our country, signs that can be easily produced in Romania also and that make the crossing much more visible and safer.
This are just a few examples but the other part that needs to be improved in order to reduce the number of people dying is public awareness. We have deep in our culture routed the true belief that health is the most important asset we have however we seem to forget this every time we get behind the wheel of a car. We always wish someone for good health on special occasions and we always pray for it for our self and for our family but we still drive irresponsibly and we put in danger not only our health but also others people health. God can only help us to a certain extent.
So how can we be the change we want to see in the world, next time we drive?
1. Leave 10 min earlier so you don’t have to rush.
2. Remind your colleague who is running late, stuck in traffic, that the world will not end if he is 5 min late and he should take his time to get to you safe rather than fast.
3. Call 112 when we see a dangerous situation on the road with no marking, so that the road authorities can take action, even if it will take them months to do it think about how many people will avoid a crash because you placed a phone call.
4. Remind people that are driving irresponsibly they have someone waiting for them at home.
5. If you are receiving a fine remind yourself that if the fine is the only thing that makes you drive slower in a dangerous area, the fine is preferable instead of a large bill for an expensive car repair, or for hospital care.
We cannot build highways without the Government but we can make the roads a little safer for us, for our children and for others by being just a little more careful next time we drive.
Please help us raise awareness about this topic by sharing with us your suggestions on how can we increase safety on roads and by talking about it with friends, family and officials.
LIFE and HEALTH are the greatest gifts we have and it’s a shame to lose them on the road.
The choice is always yours.
Until next time drive safe,
For interesting comparisons between countries you can check: