Interview with John Dawson, EIRA, EuroRAP
Every year an estimated 1.25 million people die because of road traffic crashes, and millions more are injured. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development aims to reduce road traffic deaths and injuries by 50% by 2020. This goal will not be achieved, and policies are being vigorously reset in Europe and worldwide.
We, at the RADAR team, talked with John Dawson, Board Director, EIRA, EuroRAP, to stress the importance of the improvement in road infrastructure safety, especially across the Danube region.
- Has the road infrastructure and road safety majorly improved in Europe?
If we look at the last decade, we can say that road safety has been improving maybe by a couple of per cent a year. That means that around about half a million people in Europe have been killed and about two and a half million have suffered life-changing injury. This is a problem which cannot be tinkered with at two per cent per year. We must treat it as a major public health problem. We would not accept half a million people being killed in any other form of the public disease. Let’s attack road casualty reduction as though it mattered and be proportionate about it and understand that it has a vast economic cost too – up to 5 % of GDP in some of the RADAR region countries. So, while road safety has been improving little by little overall it is inadequate and disproportionate to the scale of the problem.
- According to the World Health Organization (WHO) 1.3 million people are killed on the world's roads every year, of which 25.300 lost their lives in the EU in 2017. Data states that European roads remain the safest in the world: in 2017, the EU counted 49 road fatalities per one million inhabitants, against 174 deaths per million globally. Why does South-East Europe still need to improve road safety infrastructure?
It is the safest partly because the western and northern European countries have been going at this two per cent annual increase for a hundred years of motorisation. Now, countries like India and China are in an appalling situation following their very rapid motorisation. We are working incredibly hard with them as well. Tens of billions of investments are going in to bring up the standards of road infrastructure in China, India and across Latin America. That is a big problem but that does not mean Europe does not have an appalling problem with a quarter of a million people expected to be killed in the next decade. And even in the very safest countries, we know it is relatively easy to reduce road deaths if we just apply the knowledge we have systematically on a proportioned scale. And that is what the road assessment programs are effectively about and it's what EC Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc’s initiative is about. We need an attack on all the simple factors that we know that create an unsafe road system including a common and consistent way of measuring what the safety of our infrastructure isd.
- How does the Star Rating and measuring infrastructure safety contribute to improving the roads – focusing on the Danube area?
What we know is that about half of the road deaths are concentrated on about 10 per cent of the network. If you want to make quick, rapid progress, you target that 10 per cent of the network. The first thing we typically help do in a country is to look at the rate of deaths and serious injuries on the roads across the country. Then we focus quite quickly on the roads we need to target to make the fastest progress. The Star Rating tells us about the inbuilt safety of infrastructure in the same way that Star Rating of the cars tells us about the inbuilt safety of cars.
So, once we know how safe the road infrastructure is, once we know how safe the cars are, we can begin to build the safe system that we need to build. One of the key things is, of course, the speed at which people are driving. To allow high speeds, the star-rating must be good enough. Typically, motorways have got the highest star-rating and can safely have the highest speeds allowed. What we find in the real world is that lots and lots of people are being killed on seriously injured on one and two-star roads.
- How do you plan to achieve a better star-rating on the roads across the Danube region?
Once we know where the most unsafe roads are, the busy higher risk roads, then we can target those and improve their Star Rating. A lot of what we must do is quite straight-forward. It is to make sure the junctions are built safely – for example, France has put in 20.000 roundabouts in the last decade or two because roundabouts are much safer than priority junctions. Another simple infrastructure safety measure is left turning bays to separate streams of turning traffic from fast through traffic is. The biggest cause of death we find in our work is people simply running off the road and hitting trees. Run-off protection is important, as well. What do I mean by run-off protection? Either safety fences or clear safe zones at the roadside for people to regain control. The most lethal roads of all are fast, narrow, windy roads where the opportunities to regain control are next to nothing.
- The economic and social costs of crashes and injuries are devastating, not only for the families of the victims but also for the society. To what percentage would safer road infrastructure save lives and improve the SEE countries’ GDPs?
We say that safer vehicles can save about the third of the fatal serious crashes. Safer roads about a third and improvements in the framework for safe driving can contribute about a third. These measures all must be taken together because it is a system and every part of the system must work. We must tackle the driver behaviour issues. The big ones are the seat belt wearing, drink and speed. On the vehicles, we are working hard with the European Automobile Manufacturers' Association (ACEA) to make sure that the infrastructure development for the ever more automated vehicles is working together with infrastructure. The safety features on new cars have improved massively. In fact, it is where most safety improvement has come across Europe in the last 10 to 15 years — meaning the crumple zones, airbags and electronic stability control and so forth. On road infrastructure, we can target the 10 per cent of roads where most people die and put in all the safety features but in a very systematic way. So safe drivers, safe vehicles and safe roads.
- What do you believe are the next steps in improving the road infrastructure safety?
Well, you cannot manage what you do not measure. So, the first thing is that we need a common and consistent measurement across the Danube region of what the situation is. We know things like the number of deaths, we know how we can estimate the number of serious injuries but the one thing about the RAP system (Road Assessment Programme) is that we can have a consistent benchmark to measure the safety of our road infrastructure. Not just across the whole of the Danube region which is an amazing thing, but also across the whole world – from Chile to China. From the world's largest toll road operators to small factory and mining road networks, they are all using the same basic terminology – Star Rating. And it is so easy to understand! If we want to engage parliaments and elected representatives to understand, we must translate what we are doing into something that is understandable.