Zero traffic deaths
Ana Maria Campo lost her son Jordi eight years ago, a cyclist killed by a drunk driver in Barcelona. As a result of her anger and pain, she founded the organisation ‘Stop Accidentes’, whose members work to eradicate road accidents from Catalan and Spanish roads, and to support those injured, as well as the families of people killed.
Does she really think that eliminating accidents is possible? “If I didn’t, I wouldn't be doing this job,” she replied firmly. “This morning I heard a report saying, ‘This week, only 17 people have died’. Only? What about the 17 that died?
“When you talk to people, road safety isn’t one of the main worries they have. It’s unemployment, housing, immigration, but about the subject of traffic, they're unconcerned. What worries me is that people aren’t worried.”
The fact that road safety (seguretat viària) is an issue people should be concerned about, is borne out by the statistics. In 2005, there were 20,695 registered traffic accidents in Catalunya, a small increase on 2004, with the main recorded causes being breaking a traffic regulation, driver distraction and speed. Almost 30,000 people were injured, and 641 died. To put that in perspective, per million inhabitants, the death rate here is almost double that of the UK. Since 2000, the overall trend in these statistics has been consistently downward, but there is clearly still a significant problem facing Catalan society.
The reasons why the roads are so dangerous here are varied. For some, the key is the transition from dictatorship to democracy in the Seventies and the subsequent economic prosperity enjoyed. José Luis Pedragosa, now a member of the private Catalan Foundation for Road Safety, has worked as Director of the Road Safety Institute for the Generalitat. According to him, the problem started in the Eighties, when social and political changes led to young people making the most of their weekends. Pedragosa points out that a combination of factors such as tiredness, speed and alcohol led to the deaths of 3,000 Catalans aged 18-25 between 1983 and 1990, with half these fatal accidents ocurring between 7 and 10am.
Ole Thorson is Vice-Chairman of the Asociación Española de Prevención de Accidentes de Tráfico and a consultant who has been working on traffic safety for over 30 years. Thorson is originally from Denmark, but has lived in Barcelona for 26 years. “There is a sociological question here,” he said. “Spanish and Catalan drivers think they know more than the government, and that no one should be telling them what to do.”
Another opinion comes from Xavier Almirall, in charge of the Catalan Safety Plan office at the Servei Català de Transit (SCT). He believes that the “growth in the number of cars and inhabitants” during the Eighties and Nineties was the reason for the huge rise in road accidents at that time. And in June last year, Rafael Olmos, former head of the SCT, commented that the attention given to successful Spaniards in the Formula 1 and motor-cycling championships had to be considered at a time when 10 people had died on local roads in just three weeks.
All these different factors and opinions mean that finding viable ways to improve road safety is complex. A turnaround came at the end of the Nineties, when the number of traffic accidents peaked. As both Ole Thorson and Ana Maria Campo point out, one of the fundamental changes then was “political acceptance of the problem”, a development to which PAT and Stop Accidentes contributed. Additionally, Thorson and Jose Luís Pedragosa agree that transfer of control to the Generalitat between 1997 and 2003 for most road-related issues (with the exception of licensing and driving tests) allowed for effective policies to start being implemented in Catalunya.
In 2006, the SCT’s budget was €73 million, all raised from fines, to spend on ways to inform people about better driving and use of the roads, as well as punish those who disregard the law. According to those people interviewed, these two strategies—greater education and stricter prevention—are what’s needed. However, there is less agreement about how, and how fast, to implement them.
Xavier Almirall explains that the Generalitat’s current strategy is laid out in its Road Safety Plan 2005-2007. The objective is that by 2007, mortality will be 30 percent less compared to 2000, when there were 891 deaths. So far, the scheme is working. The Plan aimed for the number of deaths in 2005 to be 701; the reality was 60 less than that.
One of SCT’s initiatives is the expansion of radars throughout Catalunya. The first 24 radars were introduced just over two years ago, in December 2004, and the impact was overwhelming. In one year, in the radar-covered areas, the number of deaths fell by 33 percent and the average speed by 10 kilometres per hour. The total number of radars in Catalunya is now 91. Taking into account their impressive success, would it not be wise to invest in many more radars? Almirall rejects the suggestion. “Each sanction creates a lot of paperwork. If we put in 1,000 radars, that would mean millions of punishments which we couldn’t administer properly.”
Such a problem recently arose following the introduction of the much-vaunted driving license points system last summer—points are deducted for infractions and once 12 points have been deducted, a driver loses his or her licence. By October, it was revealed that there were some Spanish drivers who had lost as many as 30 points, but because of the bureaucratic maze involved with processing the sanctions, were still driving.
Perhaps a more effective method is that advocated by Ole Thorson. He believes black boxes “should be obligatory in all cars” as well as speed limiters [a satellite-based system that informs the vehicle of an area’s speed limit and prevents it going higher]. Thorson argues that these would “make people reflect on their behaviour, as well as protect victims” because everything that happened in the car would be recorded. He cites the environmentally protective moves that led to cars producing less harmful emissions as proof that the European Union (EU) can convince manufacturers and drivers that these developments are positive and achievable.
However, this is unlikely to happen anytime soon. And although the Generalitat is on track to meet its objectives on this issue, Ana Maria Campo expresses her frustration at the perceived slowness of the Catalan and Spanish governments, as well as the EU, in taking action. Her sense of hurry on improving road safety is notable. “The politicians make promises and say all the right things and I want to believe in them because this is an urgent matter…every day and minute is important.”
Facts and figures
The EU aims to reduce fatal road accidents by 50 percent in ten years to 2010 (40,000 to 20,000 per year)
• In Catalan urban areas in 2005, almost as many pedestrians (63) as drivers (78) were killed
• 45.7 percent of accidents in Catalunya in 2005 involved someone driving for work-related purposes
• In the past 11 years, there have only been three days when no deaths occurred on Spanish roads.
For more info...
Avast (Atenció a Víctimes i Afectats per Sinistres de Trànsit) - 93 301 3778 [part of PAT]; they have English, French and Danish speakers and can provide basic information to anyone affected by a road accident, including putting them in contact with a lawyer, if necessary
Stop Accidentes - www.stopaccidentes.com