Road Safety in the EU until 2010: Ari Vatanen's report in the Strasbourg plenary session


MEP Ari Vatanen (EPP-ED) was last year nominated rapporteur to prepare the Parliament's resolution on EU's Road Safety Action Programme, which aims to halve road deaths by 2010. On June 14th the report was adopted in the transport committee and by the entire European Parliament in the Strasbourg plenary session on 28th September 2006 by the votes 453 for, 69 against and 14 blanc votes.


In Europe there are annually more than 40.000 fatalities on our roads. The direct and indirect costs in EU25 are around €200 billion, i.e. 2% of EU GNP.

In June 2003 the European Commission published its proposal for a third Road Safety Action Programme. Ari Vatanen was nominated rapporteur. He is also figurehead for the European Road Safety Charter.

The Commission has indicated that it will soon draft a mid-term review of its Road Safety Action Programme.

Focal Points in Ari Vatanen's Report

The focus of the report is to create a beneficial framework for the continuous improvement of road safety.

  • A comprehensive and permanent EU Road Safety Framework is advocated. It is to develop the so called Verona Process already started by the Council of Ministers. A list of priority actions for the EU and Member States is needed. Progress is to be measured against the targets and widely published on a yearly basis.
  • However, in spite of extensive cooperation, the EU cannot do everything, but should respect national democracies and the principle of subsidiaritiy, which states that issues need to be decided on a level as close to the citizen as is effective. Some members of the committee wanted EU legislation on both alcohol limits and maximum allowed speed. Ari Vatanen spoke for a national - but responsible - approach with very strong peer review among the Member States.
  • The EU has an important role to play e.g. in the following areas:
  • collecting, analysing and  publishing data as well as safety-performance indicators
  • conducting Community-wide road safety campaigns,
  • promoting  research programmes and the eventual introduction of new technologies in close cooperation with industry and other stakeholders
  • enhancing cross-border information exchange and audits on the enforcement of Community legislation e.g. on driving times and rest periods in road transport
  • Cost-efficiency analyses must be used. Now for instance extremely costly driving and rest time legislation is being approved without proper analysis of safety benefits.
  • The European Road Safety Charter should be strengthened. Ari Vatanen is figurehead for the Charter but is worried of its lame start. The report calls for adequate financial resources to be committed and a stronger communication strategy to be developed. Yearly road safety awards would be given to best performers at highly publicised events. Furthermore, the Commission is asked to study the possibility of involving individual citizens by personal road safety commitments.
  • Traffic rules are not made to tease drivers. If everybody wore a seat belt, complied with the legal speed limits and did not drive under the influence of alcohol, fatalities would be cut by more than 60 % and the EU would have reached its target of halving road deaths.
  • New cars are far safer than older ones. Therefore the registration taxes of cars should be abolished in Europe. If needed they can be replaced with annual circulation taxes.
  • Passive safety is already quite good and therefore the focus should henceforth be on active safety and telematics. The EU eSafety Forum was established in 2003 and has proved an excellent way to promote the introduction of new technologies (e.g. the eCall which alerts the ambulance).
  • Infrastructure Directive. Driver errors can be avoided and their consequences mitigated by means of a systematic inclusion of road safety issues at any stage of the design, construction and operation of roads. The needed safety impact assessments, audits and inspections are very cost effective. Thus an Infrastructure Directive is proposed for the TEN road network.
  • Roads should be upgraded to accommodate current traffic levels. Ari Vatanen stressed that the road network has received much less EU funding than other transport modes ; and wanted the European Commission to pay more attention, in both quantitative and qualitative terms, to the road network when planning the Trans-European Transport Network (TENT).

The limits of legislation are being reached. Most of the scope for improvement lies now in the implementation, which gives the Member States a very big responsibility. There is thus now a need for other types of persuasion such as:

  1. Tax deductions for the safest cars.
  2. "Naming faming and shaming". The measures undertaken in EU member states would be compared and everybody could draw lessons. Those who fare especially well or bad would be highlighted.
  3. The EuroNCAP classification needs to be developed. Active safety needs to be included in the criteria along with the existing passive one.

Comment of Ari Vatanen

Ari Vatanen is satisfied with the way his original report was not very much amended by the Parliament. He disagrees with three things:

Paragraph 6 tries to promote collective traffic, although this is not in the Parliament's competence and not always either a cost-effective way to improve traffic safety. In paragraph 21 the Parliament argues for EU legislation on alcohol and seat belts, although this issue can very well be handled by EU recommendations and national laws. And finally, paragraph 29 absurdly links the environment and road safety.

"Even though I feel strongly about environmental protection, we should not try to smuggle in ideas which do not belong in this context. This report is about saving human lives, not a battlefield for different ideologies or platform for courting anti-car interest groups!"

Overall Comment

"The report is not a legislative report, but - I hope - a strong signal to both the EU Member States and the European Commission to put safety at the forefront. The current number of fatalities is not acceptable - we politicians must finally take our responsibility. No single death on the roads is for a good cause!"

Ari Vatanen and the Finnish newspaper telling about the traffic accident, which cost the life of his father

Picture: Ari Vatanen and the Finnish newspaper telling about the traffic accident, which cost the life of his father

Road Safety Speech 28 September 2005

Vatanen report on EU Road Safety Action Programme until 2010

Ari Vatanen (PPE-DE), rapporteur. Mr President, it is a pity that this debate is taking place so late, because when you drive home on an empty stomach that can be a safety hazard too. Debate on traffic safety is a question of attitude. It is a question and a test of how we value human life. That is what it amounts to: is human life precious to us?

The figures regarding traffic safety are as bleak and grim as the weather outside tonight. There are about 50 000 deaths per year, about 2 million people are injured. It is the main cause of death in the under-50s age group. It costs about 2% of GNP, equivalent to EUR 200 billion. But that is only money. We have to realise that what is at stake is the human suffering.

Why do we do so little? It is because it is not the Concorde which crashes, it is not the pride of the UK and France which crashes. When that happened, all Concordes were grounded immediately. No stone was left unturned in seeking to remedy the problem. But when it comes to traffic safety, it is just one family crying here, another family crying there. Their lives are shattered, amputated. You do not recover from it. You have to live with it. And perhaps only those people who have experienced that know what the grief of a family means. When I was a small boy I was with my entire family in a motor car when my father was killed. I remember him leaning against the steering wheel, that anxiety in my chest. I am sure that experience has left me with a bigger internal handicap than I dare to admit.

There is still so much that we could do and can do. First of all law enforcement. Okay, that is not an EU matter, it is not within our competence, but that is by far the most efficient way to get things done - through law enforcement, just abiding by and obeying the current rules. On the way here tonight I saw the French police carrying out an alcohol check. When more radars appeared on French roads, immediately fatalities came down.

Sometimes I think that, although it is a matter for subsidiarity, EU citizens should be protected from their respective governments. I am sorry to say that, but that is how it is, because we do not seem to realise the magnitude of the problem. There are  incredible discrepancies between different States. It is up to eight times safer in the UK or in Sweden than in some of the new Member States - eight times - imagine that incredible diversity! We have to learn from one another. From now on we must carry out a systematic scrutiny of what is going from country to country. We have to render that transparent, so that people know about it, so that they make a noise about it, so that they create political pressure. We must coordinate our actions and we must disseminate our best practices. If we make mistakes, why should those mistakes be made in those countries which are still on the road to development?

We have to name, shame and fame. That leads to action. When people have been woken up they will demand action from the politicians in their various Member States.

At an EU level we can promote new technology, we can promote new cars with fiscal incentives. At the moment a Chinese car is coming onto the European market, with no EU approval. That should be stopped, because it is downright dangerous. We must invest more money in infrastructure. We should have an infrastructure directive on TEN roads. Europeans are mobile thanks to the European road network. It is not justified, or fair on European competitiveness, that we should spend so much money on railways, which serve so little purpose compared to the road network. We have to be just in that allocation.

Yet things are not so bleak. Traffic has grown threefold since 1970 and yet fatalities have been halved. So cultures can be changed. We must believe in the new generation. At the end of the day, whatever we do, responsibility always lies with the individual. At the end of the day we are responsible.

Mr President, I know my time is up. The EU must act decisively. When our time really is up, hopefully it will not happen on a road. There are still many small boys out there waiting for their fathers.

REPORT European Road Safety Action Programme : Halving the number of road accident victims in the European Union by 2010: A shared responsibility