Road Traffic Safety: Effectiveness of the European Regulatory Framework

Road Traffic Safety: Effectiveness of the European Regulatory Framework


J-C van Elburg, NEA Transport Research & Training, NL



h4. Introduction

A truck crossing the Dutch-Belgian Border can do so without stopping because of the European internal market. For traffic safety reasons the driver behind the steering wheel is subject of European rules regarding maximum driving hours. However if the driver is stopped and appears to be behind the steering wheel for 24hours in a row he will face completely different sanctions on both sides of the border.

The willingness to increase effectiveness of the rules set out has obviously not yet led to harmonization of enforcement procedures in Europe. Moreover this problem will gain weight with the accession of Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries. Already now it is well known that some truck drivers/operators prefer to run the risks of the low penalties in CEE countries as the profits resulting from not taking the necessary breaks outweigh by far the costs of eventual penalties.

This paper will set out the shortcomings and possibilities of traffic safety rules and their enforcement in Europe. Both for passenger and freight transport by road. The paper will do so by tuning in on the things that do not run effectively. However also by looking more closely at individual countries that have implemented a successful set of rules with complementary enforcement methods. The paper will take primary a policy/legal/institutional angle and not so much a technical. At the same time the paper will highlight practical and successful initiatives that where taken in various places in Europe to fight unsafe driving.

The main objective of this paper is to analyze existing and potential of EU road safety rules, compare national rules as being applied in Member States and tune in on the control and enforcement process. Conclusions and recommendations will address both the EU and national authorities.

h4. Background

The White Paper on European transport policy for 2020 ? time to decide? has chosen to launch a high profile ambition regarding traffic safety: halving the number of deaths caused by road accidents until the year 2010 (reference: 2000; 40.000 people killed) The paper especially intends to conclude to what extent and under which circumstances the high profile ambitions are realistic.

Road safety is a major concern on the political agenda of the European Union. According to the White Paper the EU intends to join forces with the national and local authorities to reduce the number of road accident victims e.g. by the harmonization of penalties among the Member States. Prior to that objective it is necessary to know the dissimilarities in the traffic rules themselves to ensure that enforcement is fair and effective (see introduction).

There is a general agreement among countries regarding the main road safety problems. A wide variety of solutions have been put in place and further measures are being developed. Countries seem willing to learn from each other and use best practices (Scandinavia, Netherlands, UK) as a benchmark. Still when it comes down to the adoption of standards in real life (e.g. standards for maximum use of alcohol) a lot of constraints arise that apparently have nothing to do with the road safety objectives.

One of the key administrative problems is Europe is the application of the principle of subsidiarity. On the one hand the Commission issues high level ambitions as shown. On the other hand the Commission acknowledges that the responsibility to take measures here is mainly through national and regional authorities (one can wonder therefore the value of the ?time to decide? objective if this is not translated into national goals).

The role the EU can play (according to the European Commission), apart from issuing legislation is: ? Facilitate exchange of good practices ? Harmonization of penalties ? Promotion of new technologies The paper will analyze the value of these actions. Exchange of good practice is always useful. The Commission for example refers to the Swedish ?zero deaths? plan. The plan addresses all areas in which local authorities and companies can play a leading role.

However without drawing conclusions at this stage it seems to be unlikely that a large contribution in terms of improved traffic safety should be expected from exchange of know how.

Harmonization of penalties is an extremely difficult subject. It makes sense that the driver referred to earlier ? behind the steering wheel for 24 hours in a row ? faces similar severe consequences no matter on what side of the border he operates. However Member States are extremely keen on their own competencies regarding penal law.

Results can be expected here only very gradually. Regarding the promotion of new technologies the Commission remains rather vague on what is meant here (at least in the White Paper). This is noteworthy as much European and national research is conducted in order to invent measures to increase traffic safety.

Particularly in this field the European Commission should be able to initiate European co-operation and make sure that research in this field results in more then the sum of what individual Member States have to offer via the joining of forces.

Finally This paper will take a critical view on EU traffic safety policy and the way it interacts with national (and local) competencies. Apart from a juridical analysis this paper will bring forward practical examples of successful practices.

This paper will be based upon amongst others an European Commission funded study concerning ?road traffic rules? that will run in 2003. The 2003 study that has the objective to identify the most effective traffic safety measures and enforcement methods in Europe and should come up with recommendations to implement these strategies elsewhere, either on the European, national or local administrative level. Naturally also other relevant research and policy papers will also be used.

Although the primary objective of the paper is to present successful regulatory initiatives to fight for less accidents on the road also the issue of competencies of administrations and subsidiarity is touched. What rules should be set out on which administrative level? How about the lack of harmonization of enforcement standards for European rules (see example in the introduction). It is obvious that all authority levels have a role to play to increase traffic safety. The question is however what role.


Association for European Transport