7 May 2004
Road Safety in Austria, Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia
VIENNA, 7 May (UN Information Service) -- With the expansion of the European Union (EU) and Austrias plans for a huge new network of rail and road links to its new EU neighbours, traffic is set to increase, and with it, the fears of traffic chaos. More than 3,000 citizens of Austria, Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia died on the roads during 2002 and almost 19,000 people were seriously injured, according to the national statistics of the four countries. In Austria, alcohol is a growing problem, causing about nine per cent of all traffic-related deaths. Young male drivers in particular seem to have little respect for not driving under the influence -- half of the drunk drivers in Austria are between 18 and 24 years of age, and 90 per cent are men. The death toll in Slovenia is the highest, followed closely by Austria, Slovakia and Hungary. The number of cars per capita in Slovakia and Hungary is lower than in Austria and Slovenia.
Compliance with seat belt usage in Austria is well below other EU nations -- at 75 per cent compared to 90 per cent in France, Germany, Sweden and the United Kingdom. If people obeyed the law, many lives could be saved -- half of those killed in Austrian traffic last year did not have their seat belt fastened, according to the Austrian Board of Trustees for Road Safety. Tiredness is another danger on the roads, present in 30 per cent of the accidents according to the Austrian Automobile, Motorcycle and Touring Club (ÖAMTC).
However, from a global perspective, the roads in central Europe are very safe. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 1,2 million people die annually around the world in road accidents. Low and middle income countries account for about 85 per cent of the cases, even though they are less motorized in general. The WHO predicts that road death will be the third most common cause of premature death and disability by the year 2020, worse than even HIV/AIDS. In order to raise awareness of the problem, the organization chose Road Safety as its theme for World Health Day last month on 7 April. It also launched a comprehensive report on road safety. The main message was accidents could be prevented. The report provided recommendations on how governments could form their overall road safety plans.
WHO said that the policy of mandatory seat belts is regarded as one of the most successful in the history of road safety. Compulsory use of child restraints, which decrease the risk of death for children in car accidents, and helmets for all cyclists and motorcyclists were also strongly recommended. The report offered several recommendations on road and vehicle design, and instructions on how to best provide health care after an accident. Safe and affordable public transport and safe roads for pedestrians and cyclists should also be promoted.
According to the WHO report, law enforcement can sometimes be a greater deterrent to drunk driving than information campaigns. For instance, while Austria and Slovenia accept alcohol levels up to the EU average of 0.5 per mil, Slovakia and Hungary have a zero-tolerance policy on drinking and driving. Other tools used to prevent the incidence of drunk driving such as cameras to catch speeders are also said to be most effective in the report.
In Austria, a road safety programme was started in 2002 with an objective of halving the number of annual casualties by 2010. Actions have been undertaken in road design and school way safety. The respect for traffic regulations is perceived as being low; a possible cause could be the low punishments that go with violations -- surprisingly, Austrias fines for speeding are lower than in Hungary, Slovenia and Slovakia. The general perception is that drivers fear being caught driving under the influence much more than getting into an accident.
In Hungary, a seven-year successful programme for road safety ended in 2000, but since then, their accident statistics have risen.
Road safety in Slovenia has improved over the last decade, which owes a lot to the improvement in road infrastructure. However, statistics show that more people died in the first trimester of 2004 than at any given time during the last three years. Alcohol and speeding are the main causes of traffic accidents in Slovenia.
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