Friday, 3 January 2014

Another year of improved road safety in Poland

Hard to believe after all the high-profile alcohol-related road carnage of the past week, but 2013 proved to be another year in which the number of Poles killed in traffic accidents fell. The number - 3,291 - represents a drop of 7.8% compared to the 3,571 who were killed in 2012.

As I wrote this time last year, the slaughter on Polish roads is abating, but it's happening at all too slow a pace.

From 7,900 killed in 1991 (when the number of cars in Poland was around three times lower than it is today) the number of victims has more than halved, but this still remains a catastrophe of national proportions. There are three thousand people alive in Poland today who - if past years' stats are anything to go by - will not make it through to the end of the year because they will have been involved in a fatal road accident

Tuesday's massacre at Kamień Pomorski in which a drunken 26 year-old driving a BMW crashed into a group of pedestrians killing six people has forced some much-needed introspection and soul-searching among Poles. The main message from the media to the nation after this event has been that there should be an end to przyzwolenie (somewhere between 'tacit consent' and 'acquiescence') for driving under the influence. The female passenger of the BMW will always have on her conscience the fact that she could have done more to stop the driver from sitting behind the steering wheel in his condition (ten times over the Polish drink-drive limit).

But while alcohol is certainly a major contributing factor when it comes to fatal road accidents in Poland, a greater one - which no pundit mentioned - was speed. The contrast between driving around the UK (which I had been for much of the previous week) and Poland is glaring. In Britain, drivers generally respect speed limits and drive more sensibly. I noted only one case of idiotic driving in over 420 miles (675 km) - a guy in a Saab convertible tailgating then dodging and weaving across all three lanes of the M62 near Manchester - something I see daily on ul. Puławska.

Poles - drivers, passengers, pedestrians alike should start treating drivers that flout speed limits as potential killers and not as romantic heirs to the Polish lancers at Somosierra. Impatience is as much a killer as impaired judgment due to alcohol - and even more common. I'd also like to see social opprobrium fall upon those drivers who think it OK to send SMSs while maneuvering their cars in traffic. Just before Christmas I saw a driver of a white Opel Astra texting as he turned right off Marszałkowska into Żurawia - looking at the screen of his mobile rather than at the stream of pedestrians crossing Żurawia.

Let's be thankful that the overall trend continues to be in the right direction, but there's a long way to go before Poland's roads are as safe as those in the UK. Though we don't have figures for 2013, the year before last in the UK saw the lowest number of road accident fatalities since records began back in 1926 - and that is despite a 10% year-on-year rise in the number of cyclists. But even so, 1,754 people died on the roads of Britain in 2012. The number should be zero.

Below: a classic case. You will see Izabella Ch. driving her black Mercedes CLS northbound across Al. Jerozolimskie, running a red light, hitting a white car then crashing into the entrance of Centrum Metro station. This happened at 02:30 on Wednesday 18 December. The 31 year-old woman was five times over the drink-drive limit and has had previous run-ins with the police when drunk in charge of a car. I would sincerely hope that after due process of law, this woman is never allowed back behind the driving wheel. Ever.

 Below: the consequences of running a red light - one of dozens of aftermaths of car smashes I've witnessed over my years in Poland.

From the
website of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, some official advice from the British government:
Driving on Polish roads can be hazardous. Local driving standards are poor: speed limits, traffic lights and road signs are often ignored and drivers rarely indicate before manoeuvring. 
In 2012 there were 3,571 road deaths in Poland (source: DfT). This equates to 9.3 road deaths per 100,000 of population and compares to the UK average of 2.8 road deaths per 100,000 of population in 2012.
WSTYD!!! Polish drivers are three point three times more lethal than British ones. Enough already. Trzeba się opanować za kierownicą!

If Poland's roads are to be blanketed with speed cameras - so be it. They save lives.

This time last year:
Light show at the Presidential Palace

This time four years ago:
About juice - and empty supermarket shelves

This time five years ago:
That's what I call Winter Vol. 12

This time six years ago:
When the days start getting a little longer...


Anonymous said...

Speed per se is not the problem on Polish roads. The "divine right" aggression of most drivers who have no concept of defensive driving is the problem however... then again that is not uncommon amongst driving traits throughout the New Europe..

Michael Dembinski said...

@ Anon

I beg to differ. Speed per se is not the problem unless you hit something or someone. Speed limits are there be adhered to. End of.

Alexander said...

I have been coming to Poland during holidays for 7 years now.
In my opinion the Polish drivers have improved their road behavior and speeding.
And I am surprised the death toll has not spiraled up with the sudden increase in cyclists in Poland.
7 years ago my Polish girlfriend would call a cyclist a suicider ! And I must say I once saw a cyclist, cycling on the wrong side at night of the road between the German border and the motorway near Poznan, because he was smoking !

Also I think there should be rules about roller skaters in traffic. As I understand there are no rules fort hem now in Poland, and where they should go. Road, cycle pathor pavement ?

Best regards, Alexander

student SGH said...

There are three thousand people alive in Poland today who - if past years' stats are anything to go by - will not make it through to the end of the year because they will have been involved in a fatal road accident - and oddly enough, each and every of them assumes it will be someone else, not them...

Alcohol, speed, impatience, lack of concentration... I would supplement the list with tiredness. An exhausted driver behaves (in terms of delayed reaction) as the one who has drunk a beer or two.

The classic case - of depravity or something else? I would sincerely hope that after due process of law, this woman is never allowed back behind the driving wheel. Ever. - and a classic question - how will the Polish state enforce she does not sit behind the wheel. I doubt taking away driving license is an effective measure. In practice you don't need a document to drive. Cars do not detect whether the person on the driver sit is legally allowed to drive.

Anonymous said...

With all due respect (and I agree with you on the vast majority of things) - I think speeding is the least of the problems on the roads here.

What's wrong is the acceptance by the police towards almost everything. They simply don't seem to enforce half of the laws that exist - and dragnets to catch drunk drivers rarely exist. I've lost count of the amount of illegal manoeuvres I've made here - the knowledge that the police don't really enforce the law makes it much easier to break, I think.

Speed cameras don't really work for one simple reason - they don't waste people's time. I remember being caught one morning near Kudowa-Zdroj, and what frustrated me most wasn't the 4 points and 100zl fine, but the fact that I had no money and was obliged to go and find a cash machine. If it was a speed camera, it wouldn't have been a problem to deal with it.

I'm a strong believer in frustrating people - for instance, if you're caught parking like a moron, then the punishment should be that your car is towed to some inconvenient location and kept for 7 days. Simple, effective and will scare people far more than a mere 50/100zl fine (which is peanuts to most people parking like idiots anyway).

Having said this, I was driving quite peacefully one night along a rather dark road. It was in the middle of nowhere, so doing 80km/h wasn't a problem - not until some guy suddenly appears at the side of the road on a bike without lights or reflective clothes. I stopped just past him, got out to ask him what on earth he was doing - and he was unsurprisingly drunk. It took me a great amount of willpower not to throw him in the nearest ditch!

As much as I think driving in Poland is remarkably stress-free when it comes to punishments, I still think that Poland needs to start showing absolutely zero tolerance towards bad behaviour on the roads. Speeding should be targeted, but only in places where it's clearly dangerous to speed. Where's the point in wasting resources by hiding in a village on Sunday mornings to catch speeders when they could be breathalysing people?

With respect to the point about people accepting drink driving - I think it's a huge shame on society. I'd like to see passengers being equally responsible in this case - if you get in a car with a drunk, then you are also considered to be drink driving. Attitudes would soon change if people were forced to take responsibility.

Alas, I fear that the Government knows fine well that their core electorate consists of people who treat cars as status symbols.

Michael Dembinski said...

@ Anonymous:

Speeding is the BIGGEST problem other than drink-driving.

In 2013, in over 42% of all the fatal road accidents in Poland, speed was the primary cause. In the UK, speed was the primary cause of 20% of all fatal road accidents.