Road safety in Europe

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Pedestrian accident location sign in Stuttgart, Germany

Road safety in Europe encompasses transportation safety among road users in Europe, including automobile accidents, pedestrian or cycling accidents, motor-coach accidents, and other incidents occurring within the European Union or within the European region of the World Health Organization (49 countries). Road traffic safety refers to the methods and measures used to prevent road users from being killed or seriously injured.

In 2016, according to the World Health Organisation, road accidents were the eighth-biggest cause of death in the world; deadlier than both diarrhoeal diseases and tuberculosis. Not only is it important to consider road fatalities, but for every fatality on Europe's roads, it is estimated that 4 people will become permanently disabled, 10 will suffer brain or spinal cord damage, 10 people will be seriously injured and 40 will have sustained minor injuries. On top of this, road accidents incur a large economic impact. In Europe alone, it is estimated that road accidents are a cost to society by a measure of €130 billion annually. Road accidents and incidents happen for a number of reasons. The main cause of an accident is speed, this is followed by other issues such as driving whilst under the influence of drink or drugs, being distracted at the wheel by mobile devices, in-car radios or personal navigation devices. These risk factors listed here are but a few reasons for road collisions to occur and they demonstrate the myriad of complex factors that are at play for road-safety policy makers.

Trends and targets

The European Union (EU) has the safest roads in the world; in which 49 people per million inhabitants died in a road collision in 2018. In the year 2000 over 50,000 people in Europe lost their lives on the roads, by 2009 this number had been reduced to over 35,000; and by 2018 the figure has been reduced further to 25,100, whilst in the same year the number of serious injuries incurred as a result of road collisions was 135,000 people.

The European Commission (EC) has laid out a plan entitled Vision Zero which endeavours to reduce the incidence of road induced fatalities to a rate of zero by the year 2050. In order to be able to achieve their long-term ambition of zero deaths on Europe's roads, the Commission implemented a road safety strategy, The Road Safety Programme, in which they aimed to halve the number of fatalities caused by road accidents and incidents between 2011 and 2020. As of 2018, European Union member states are far from this target, since there has only been a 20% reduction in road fatalities, which makes the target of a 50% reduction by 2020 now seem implausible.

  • European Union: Source European Union
  • European Union:, 2019 Early estimates
  • United States: Source OCDE/ITF for 1990, 2000 and 2010–2015 period (killed after 30 days)
  • United States: Source NHTSA (2007–2019).

The Commissioner of Transport of the EU considers road safety as a key European success story.

Various geographical safety organizations

World Health Organization

The World Health Organization issued a European Status Report on road safety.

Ninety per cent of WHO countries have a safety agency operating with their respective transport ministries, except in CIS countries where the topic falls under the interior minister.

From an EU perspective

Road safety policy making in the EU falls jointly on the European institutions and member states; and it is the European Commission (EC) which has a particularly important role in overseeing road safety policy across the Union. This is because it has oversight over product standards and regulations, as well as certain aspects of infrastructure development and management. Road safety is based upon the EU principle of subsidiarity: national and local authorities are responsible for most decisions, including enforcement and awareness-raising, while the EU operates a general framework for improved road safety via legislation and recommendations e.g. introducing minimum safety requirements for the Trans-European Transport Networks, and technical requirements for the transport of dangerous goods.

The EU publishes various legal texts regarding road safety.

European Road Safety NGOs

The European Transport Safety Council is an NGO based in Brussels. It aims to reduce the numbers of deaths and injuries in transport in Europe. The Council reported an increase in fatalities in most European countries in 2015.


Killed definition

U.S. Army General George S. Patton's grave in Luxembourg City: On December 8, 1945, while still in Europe, while upon going to an invitation of Patton's chief of staff, Major General Hobart Gay, his car collided with an American army truck at low speed.

The 1968 Vienna Convention on Road Traffic defines a fatal road accident as an accident in which a person died of their injuries at the scene or within thirty days. This definition has been adopted across most EU countries.

Some countries have applied this definition retrospectively where possible. For instance, until 2004 France counted its killed at six days, but in an effort to enable comparison with neighbor countries a multiplicative coefficient 1.057 was used up to 2004 and 1.069 since 2005 to convert the killed at six days into killed at thirty days, before France adopted the international definition in 2005.


Each year road crashes generate about 120,000 fatalities and 2.4 million injuries in the European region of the World Health Organization. Road traffic injuries are the leading cause of death among adolescents and young adults.

In 2015, the European Commission published a figure for the number of people seriously injured on Europe's roads: 135,000 people in 2014. To obtain this figure all countries of the EU needed to align on a common standardized medical definition of what constitutes a serious road injury.

In Europe, for every person killed in traffic crashes, many more suffer serious injuries with life-changing consequences.

Serious injuries are more costly to society because of the long-term rehabilitation and healthcare needed. Vulnerable road users, such as pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists or elderly road users, are especially concerned.

Between 2010 and 2018, between 206 and 222 thousands serious injured were counted yearly for 23 EU members

Other issues

The level of transport-related air pollution is also a major public health concern in most countries of Europe.

Main road casualties indicators

Fatality rates in 2017 (in fatality per population) source Legend:    < 35 killed/M <    < 55 killed/M <    < 65 killed/M <    < 80 killed/M <    < 100 killed/M (in killed per million inhabitants)

Many differences between countries are linked to demography, development level and population density. According to Siem Oppe of the SWOW a learning behavior appears in the changes in the level of fatalities over time:

  • In the poorest countries, there are few trips and less public transport. Motorized road traffic is low and the rate of fatalities by million inhabitants is very low (fewer than 30).
  • Development of car use leads to a sharp increase in traffic and consequently increases accident numbers, and the ratio killed per million inhabitants in less poor countries passes 200.[citation needed]
  • On the other hand, the richest countries experience a lot of congestion and have more developed transport and road safety policies. Drivers' behaviour is more cautious, and the ratio killed falls to less than 80 killed per million inhabitants.

European Union Road Safety Facts and Figures
Country Area

(thousands of km2)

Population in 2018 GDP per capita in 2018 Population density

(inhabitants per km2) in 2017

Vehicle ownership

(per thousand inhabitants) in 2016

Road Network Length

(in km) in 2013

Total Road Deaths in 2018 Road deaths

per Million Inhabitants in 2018

Number of People Killed

per Billion km

Number of Seriously Injured in 2017/2018
Austria 83.9 8,822,267 38,000 107 665 124,115 409 45 5.2 (2015–2017) 7,664 (2017)
Belgium 30.5 11,398,589 35,300 376 585 155,210 590 52 n/a 3,757 (2017)
Bulgaria 111.0 7,050,034 6,500 65 516 19,678 611 88 n/a 8,680 (2018)
Croatia 56.5 4,105,493 11,500†a 74 416 26,820 317 77 12.7 (2016–2018) 2.776 (2018)
Cyprus 9.3 864,236 23,300 128 726 9,765 49 57 n/a 348 (2018)
Czech Republic 78.9 10,610,055 17,600 137 570 130,680 656 62 10.1 (2015–2015) 2,395 (2018)
Denmark 42.9 5,781,190 47,600 137 508 74,130 175 30 3.7 (2016–2018) 1,756 (2017)
Estonia 45.2 1,319,133 15,100 30 620 58,787 67 51 5.7 (2016–2018) 460 (2018)
Finland 338.4 5,513,130 36,600 18 732 78,093 225 43 4.7 (2014–2016) 409 (2017)
France 632.8 66,926,166 32,800 123 590 1,071,823 3,265 48 5.8 (2015–2017) 27,732 (2017)
Germany 357.3 82.792,351 35,900 237 610 230,377†b 3,177 39 4.3 (2015–2017) 67,913 (2018)
Greece 132.0 10,741,165 17,800 83 605 117,321 690 64 n/a 706 (748)
Hungary 93.0 9,778,371 12,500 108 394 203,310 629 64 n/a 5,496 (2018)
Ireland 69.8 4,830,392 59,400 70 525 96,017 146 31 3.5 (2015–2017) 966†d
Italy 302.1 60,483,973 26,700 206 707 256,039 3,310 55 6.5 (2015–2017) 17,309 (2017) †e
Latvia 64.6 1,934,379 12,300 31 387 70,443 143 78 12.1 (2015–2017) 542 (2018)
Lithuania 65.3 2,808,901 13,300 45 501 72,591 170 61 n/a 81 (2018)
Luxembourg 2.6 602,005 80,800 245 740 2,880 36 60 n/a 256 (2017)
Malta 0.3 475,701 21,600 1,462 726 203,310 18 38 6.6 (2016–2017) 317 (2018)
Netherlands 41.5 17,181,084 41,500 508 543 138,641 678 31 4.7 (2015–2017) 20,800 (2017)
Poland 312.7 37,976,687 12,400 124 672 415,122 2,862 76 14.6 (2013–2015) 10,963 (2018)
Portugal 92.2 10,291,027 17,900 112 479 14,310†c 606 59 8.5 (2016–2018) 1,974 (2018)
Romania 238.4 19,530,631 8,700 85 329 85,531 1,867 96 n/a 8,144 (2018)
Slovakia 49.0 5,443,120 15,600 113 455 54,806 229 46 n/a 1,127 (2017)
Slovenia 20.3 2,066,880 20,200 103 587 38,874 91 44 6.6 (2014–2016) 821 (2018)
Spain 506.0 46,658,447 25,000 93 611 666 415 1,806 39 n/a 9,546 (2017)
Sweden 438.6 10,120,242 43,300 25 542 216,976 324 32 3.4 (2016–2018) 4,200 (2018)
United Kingdom 248.5 66,273,576 32,400 273 544 421,127 1,825 28 3.4 (2016–2018) GB Data Only 25,609 (2017)
EU 28 Total 4,463.4 512,379,225 28,200 121 587 4,852,242 25,249 49 5.8 (no date range available) n/a

a Data only available for 2017

b Data not available for "Other Roads" Category in source

c Data not available for "Other Roads" Category in source

d Data only available for 2016

e Data for MAIS3+ certification

Mortality within Europe, per million inhabitants in 2013
  • Source: Eurostat

Nationals means do not show local variations, so in 2015, NUTS regions with the lower fatality ratio per million inhabitants, are Stockholm (6), Vienna (7), Hamburg and Oslo (11), Berlin (14) and East Sweden (15). The same year, other regions have a worst fatality ratio such as the Luxembourg province of Belgium (210) and Kastamonu in Turkey (192).

UK position

Mortality in UK is rather reduced compared with the EU.

Europe mortality by state per million inhabitant in 2013
  • source Eurostat

Les moyennes nationales ne reflètent pas les variations locales, ainsi en 2015, les régions NUTS ayant la mortalité routière la plus faible, par million d'habitants, sont Stokholm (6), Viennes (7), Hambourg et Oslo (11), Berlin (14) et Ostra Verige (15). La même année, les régions les plus meurtrières sont la province de Luxembourg en Belgique (210) et Kastamonu en Turquie (192).

The "per 10 billion pkm" indicator is based on an estimated value due to missing vkm indicator. In 2016, the indicator range from 23 for Sweden to 192 for Romania, with a 52 value for 28-EU. Germany, France, UK and Italy ranks 33, 46, 28, and 44, respectively.

Killed, EU, pkm, 2016
  • source Eurostat

Transportation mode effect

Car drivers and their passengers formed the greatest proportion of road fatalities in 2013 at 45%, followed by pedestrians at 22%. These vary considerably between nations with high levels of fatalities for motorcycles where their use is more common, linked to the climate of Mediterranean countries.

Road accident fatalities by category of vehicles as of 2013

  Cars & taxis (44.7%)
  Light goods vehicles (3.1%)
  HGV (1.7%)
  Buses & coaches (0.6%)
  Bicycles (7.8%)
  Mopeds (2.9%)
  Motorcycles (15.0%)
  Pedestrians (21.9%)
  Other (2.3%)

In the world and within the European Union (28 members), mortality depends upon modal transportation:

  • World source: OMS, Global status report on road safety 2015
  • EU source: EC

Transport safety (modal comparison)

Transport mode Traveller fatalities
per 100 million passenger-kilometres
1999 2001–2002
M-bike 16 13,8
Foot 7.5 6.4
Bike 6.3 5.4
Car 0.8 0.7
Small boat 0.33 0.25
Bus & coach 0.08 0.07
Air (civil aviation) 0.08 0.035
Train 0.04 0.050
Transport mode Traveller fatalities
per 100 million passenger-hours
1999 2001–2002
M-bike 500 440
Bike 90 75
Foot 30 25
Car 30 25
Air (civil aviation) 36.5 16
Small boat 10.5 8
Train 3 3
Bus & coach 2 2

Sources :

Rating roads for safety

Since 1999 the EuroRAP initiative has been assessing major roads in Europe with a road protection score. This results in a star rating for roads based on how well its design would protect car occupants from being severely injured or killed if a head-on, run-off, or intersection accident occurs, with four stars representing a road with the best survivability features. The scheme states it has highlighted thousands of road sections across Europe where road users are routinely maimed and killed for want of safety features, sometimes for little more than the cost of safety fencing or the paint required to improve road markings.

There are plans to extend the measurements to rate the probability of an accident for the road. These ratings are being used to inform planning and authorities' targets. For example, in Britain two thirds of all road deaths in Britain happen on rural roads, which score badly when compared with the high-quality motorway network; single carriageways claim 80% of rural deaths and serious injuries, while 40% of rural car occupant casualties are in cars that hit roadside objects, such as trees. Improvements in driver training and safety features for rural roads are hoped to reduce this statistic.

The number of designated traffic officers in the UK fell from 15 to 20% of police force strength in 1966 to seven per cent of force strength in 1998, and between 1999 and 2004 by 21%. It is an item of debate whether the reduction in traffic accidents per 100 million miles driven over this time has been due to robotic enforcement.


EU law

The European Union has some legal texts regarding Driving License, Enforcement in the field of road safety, Alcohol, Drugs and Medicine, Professional Drivers – Training, Professional Drivers – Working Conditions, Professional Drivers – Tachograph, Professional Drivers – Check of the working Conditions, Third Countries Driver Attestation, Vehicles – type approval, Vehicle – Registration, Vehicle – Technical Control, Vehicle – Front Protection of Vulnerable Users, Vehicle – Safety Belts and other Restraints Systems of Vulnerable Users, Vehicle – Tyres, Vehicle – Daytime Running Lights, Vehicle – Blind Spot Mirrors, Vehicle – Conspicuity, Vehicle – Speed limitation Devices, Vehicle – Weights and Dimensions, Transport of Dangerous Goods – Weights and Dimensions, Road Infrastructure, Emergency Calls, Accident Data Collection, and Unit of Measurement.[clarification needed]

Some of those texts are documented in Wikipedia, such as Directive 80/1269/EEC, European driving license, European emission standards, and End of Life Vehicles Directive.

EU Directive 2008/96/EC on Road Infrastructure Safety Management (RISM) provides for the introduction of road safety impact assessments (RSIA) in the process of designing a new road or major road layout change. As defined by the European Directive, RSIA is "a strategic comparative analysis of the impact of a new road or a substantial modification to the existing network on the safety performance of the road network". The RISM directive was transposed into Irish law under SI 472 of 2011.

Road safety within tunnels on the Trans-European Road Network is specifically covered within a separate directive.

In 2018 the European Commission presented a proposal to amend the EU RISM directive with a view to reducing road fatalities and serious injuries on EU road networks, by improving the safety performance of road infrastructure. The amendment was adopted in November 2019.

National (local) laws

European countries usually have improvable[clarification needed] laws regarding speed control, drunk driving, helmets, seat belts and child car restraints. Most countries have laws regarding one or another concern, but less than a third of countries have laws and control for each of them.

Drink driving limits

Blood Alcohol Content limits for drivers in Europe, measured in grams per litre of blood
Country Standard limit Limit for commercial drivers Limit for novice drivers
Austria 0.5 0.1 0.1
Belgium 0.5 0.2 0.5
Bulgaria 0.5 0.5 0.5
Croatia 0.5 0.5 0.5
Cyprus 0.5 0.2 0.2
Czech Republic 0 0 0
Denmark 0.5 0.5 0.5
Estonia 0.2 0.2 0.2
Finland 0.5 0.5 0.5
France 0.5 0.5 (0.2 for bus drivers) 0.2
Germany 0.5 0 0
Greece 0.5 0.2 0.2
Hungary 0 0 0
Ireland 0.5 0.2 0.2
Italy 0.5 0 0
Latvia 0.5 0.5 0.2
Lithuania 0.4 0 0
Luxembourg 0.5 0.2 0.2
Malta 0.5 0.2 0.2
Netherlands 0.5 0.5 0.2
Poland 0.2 0.2 0.2
Portugal 0.5 0.2 0.2
Romania 0 0 0
Slovakia 0 0 0
Slovenia 0.5 0 0
Spain 0.5 0.3 0.3
Sweden 0.2 0.2 0.2
Switzerland 0.5 0.1 0.1
United Kingdom (i) 0.8 0.8 0.8
(i) Scotland 0.5 0.5 0.5


Safety awards

In 2018, Ireland wins the PIN award 2019, is the best performer of the European Union for traffic safety, with 30 deaths per million inhabitants. not counting the withdrawing United Kingdom. It is also the second member of the EU for deaths per billion vehicle-km, with a rate of 3.5, not as good as the rate 3.4 for Sweden, not counting the withdrawing United Kingdom.

Ireland actions to improve safety included fighting against drunk driving, drunk pedestrian, drunk motorcyclist, and speeding motorcyclists.

Local specificities

EU-27 differences

In the European Union differences exist from country to country.

For instance, Germany, Spain and the Netherlands only have 5387 fatalities in 2019, that is 24 % of EU fatalities for 33% of the population in 2017. This means this group of three populated countries performs better than the whole EU.

At the opposite, Poland, Bulgaria and Romania have 5401 fatalities in 2019, that is 24 % of EU fatalities also, but for only 15% of the population in 2017.

While those six countries together make 48% of EU population and 48% of EU fatalities, rate of fatalities per population is 120 % higher in the second group of three countries than in the better group.

Between both groups, France and Italy together have 6417 fatalities the same year, that is 28 % of EU fatalities for 29% of the population in 2017. This makes rate of fatalities per population in this third group is 33 % higher in this third group of countries than in the better group.

Those eight countries together make 77% of EU population and 76% of EU fatalities. The last quarter would group the 19 other EU countries which also have good and poor performers but with a smaller weight in the EU performance.

UK regions

Compared mortality in UK NUTS 1 regions.

Mortality in UK NUTS 1 regions 2015
  • source Eurostat


Simulator Lisbon, Portugal

In Europe, expenditure for traffic safety is far less than the costs of road traffic injuries.


Project EDWARD is the biggest Europe-wide awareness and enforcement campaign on road safety.

The goal of the project European Day Without A Road Death (Project EDWARD) is that nobody dies on the roads of Europe on Wednesday 19 September 2018. In 2018, project EDWARD reached a score of 37.2 million on the Twitter social media.

The fourth edition occurred on 26 September 2019. That day, 52 people were killed on the European roads, a few less than the daily 70 killed per day. In eleven EU countries, nobody was killed that day.

The keyword used on social media for this campaign is the word #ProjectEDWARD.

Next EDWARD day is planned on 16 September 2020.

On 17 September 2020 was set the roadpol safety day. That day, 34 people dies on the European roads of 26 participating countries out of 27. 16 countries had zero deaths that day, while 10 countries had had at least one death. Spain, Poland and Romania had more than 5.

See also