Kallas: law no panacea for road safety

Euroopa transpordivoliniku Siim Kallase sõnul on Eesti liikluskultuuris halvenemise märke.

PHOTO: Mihkel Maripuu

European Union desires inspection of motorcycles and shorter intervals for technical control of old automobiles.

According to EU transport commissioner Siim Kallas, road safety is enhanced by punishing cross-border violations and the new standard – emergency call sign system eCall. Even so, laws are no panacea for safer traffic. Chiefly, the issue is traffic culture.

At the end of last year, European transport ministers cut out several items of your proposal on vehicle inspection. This summer, European Parliament picked these up, again. How are the proceedings doing?

Transport ministers left out clauses regarding inspection of motorcycles and the norm for old cars to be checked more often. We desire that cars over six years old would undergo technical inspection every year; this is currently being discussed.

Council and parliament are in discussions and by year’s end the topics will have been decided. For us, it is most important that inspection of motorcycles will probably stay in there.

How are things with alcohol interlocks in EU?

These are not compulsory, yet. We have considered making them compulsory for buses; at the same time, we have to realise our role in its implementation. Member states well know the vitality of the topic; we are helping along with research, pointing out the benefits. Many states are already active users; in Finland, for instance, it is possible to have alcohol interlock installed after one is caught in drunk driving. With buses, especially school buses, it is quite widespread in Europe already.

Will the plan to have all new cars in EU equipped with eCall emergency system, by end of 2015, be realised?

I do believe so. Nobody has anything against that, there may be some time-delays for various reasons. The issue is its technical realisation and uniform standards. You will have a device installed on your car, reacting to accidents. The issue is: where will the signal go, which frequencies etc. These problems have already been solved.

Over the past years, Europe has seen a great drop in traffic accidents, injuries and casualties. Even so, the aim set in 2010 to reduce the death toll by a half, in a decade, seems evasive. Why?

In 2012, traffic deaths were down nine percent; which was very much. At one time, the deaths were nearly 100,000, then it was 40,000, last year 28,000. Every year, reducing traffic deaths becomes more complicated. At the same time, the situation is twice better than in USA. I met their traffic safety chief Deborah Hersman and was amazed that while we have about 50 deaths for a million inhabitants, they have over a hundred.

To reduce this, we have done three major things. Firstly, punishing cross-border violations, entering into force, with finality, on November 7th. Secondly the eCall: a car signalling an alarm centre that something has happened.  Thirdly, with 28,000 traffic deaths in EU last year, injuries were 250,000. In addition to reducing the number, it is also important to have common understanding what is considered serious injury; this used to vary with countries, now we succeeded in agreeing common definition.

According to statistics, a fifth of casualties in EU traffic are pedestrians, 70 per cent of these in towns. How could traffic be made safer, for pedestrians?

It’s up to traffic culture. When visiting Estonia, there was a time when it felt things had markedly improved as compared to some twenty years ago; but not it feels again that we are backsliding. Driving from Tallinn to Viimsi and back, one sees some cars severely endangering others in the traffic. When passing others, they cannot stop at crosswalks. We can’t hope, here, for some miracle law and ways to enforce such.

Pedestrians must realise cars can’t stop on a dime; drivers must maintain order at crosswalks, so the pedestrians can walk across safe. This isn’t a purely Eastern-European issue; in France, I often wonder is I will risk stepping on the crossing; meanwhile, in Belgium, Germany, Nordics,  Countries it no problem at all.

Even with traffic deaths per million down, still Estonia ranked 17th and 18th with Luxemburg, on EU 2012 statistics; earlier, we used to be higher, by several notches.

Yes, traffic deaths are above average. In 1990ies, we had close to 500 deaths a year, with numbers of cars five times fewer. Now, the deaths are under a hundred. Sure, statistics mean nothing, every life is precious. We would be happy to rank among the best, with UK, Holland, Sweden and Denmark.