The number of people killed on Poland's roads last year was 3,540; a 16% fall on 2011. The 2012 figures, collated by Poland's Central Polish HQ, were published in today's Rzeczpospolita. Ten years earlier, in 2002, the number of fatalities was over 5,800; back in 1991 it was a staggering 7,900. Indeed, since the end of communism, the number of Poles who have lost their lives in road accidents tops 140,000. What an appalling, senseless, waste of human lives.
While this fall in road accident fatalities is to be welcomed, it's still an appalling fact that last year three and half thousand human lives have been cut short. In good measure due to drivers' excess speed and bravura behind the wheel.
Coinciding with the publication of last year's road accident statistics was the news that motoring journalist Maciej Zientarski was sentenced to three years imprisonment and an eight-year driving ban for causing the accident, in February 2008, which left a fellow motoring journalist, Jarosław Zabiega, dead. Zientarski had been driving a Ferrari down ul. Puławska at 150kmh, three times the speed limit at that point. The car left the road and flew into a concrete flyover support.
Speed cameras are beginning to appear across Warsaw - at last, I might add. In the UK, they have significantly contributed to the lowering of the death toll on the roads, which is three times lower than in Poland (UK: 1,901 fatalities = 31 per million inhabitants; Poland: 3,520 fatalities = 92 per million population). And note that the UK figures are for 2011, and the trend has been falling for many years now, so 2012 should be lower.
Speed cameras are highly controversial in Poland (as they were in the UK while they were being introduced on a mass scale in the 1990s). Populist politicians rail against them, hoping to catch votes. Populist media do likewise, to sell more papers. "How dare the authorities fine motorists for exceeding speed limits!", they all wail.
The UK experience is that the proportion of fatal road accidents in which excessive speed was a contributory factor has fallen from 25% to 12%. In Poland, according to the latest police statistics, this is 45%. In the UK, speed cameras have played a significant part in changing the mentality of drivers; blasting along the highways at illegal speeds is no longer seen as being big or clever.
Yet in Poland, even intelligent, Rzeczpospolita readers see speed cameras as an affront to their egos and a threat democratic rights. Rzepa's readers in the poll on the subject, believe with a massive margin that there are too many speed cameras. Twice as many express that view than those who think there are too few, or there are enough, or those with no opinion or who don't care - put together.
The new speed camera on ul. Puławska by the LukOil petrol station on Kuropatwy was put up to enforce the 50kmh limit at the pedestrian crossing there. Before the camera was erected, traffic would typically drive through this stretch at 100kmh or more. Now, drivers all meekly slow down.
Good. I've personally witnessed the aftermath of two fatal accidents on Puławska, and wish to see no more.
Human life is more precious than the right to dash along public highways.
This time last year: