Saturday, 7 March 2015

Polish road deaths fall again; still way too high

The number of human lives lost on Poland's roads last year fell once again, to a headline figure of 3,202*, down by 4.6% from 2013's toll of 3,357. My prediction last year that over three thousand people, alive when I wrote those words, would be killed on the roads during the course of 2014 proved sadly, though predictably correct.

Although the annual tendency for the number of fatal accidents on Poland's roads continues to move in the right direction, the pace of improvement is flagging. The 2013 figure represented a 7.8% fall on 2012. Compared to 2004 (5,712 dead), last year's toll represents a drop of 44%. And this as the number of vehicles registered in Poland continues to climb (a 67% increase over the past ten years).

So things are getting better, but are still way behind the UK. The 2014 data is still unpublished, but looking at 2013, the number of people killed on UK roads was 1,713, the lowest since records began back in the 1920s.

Speed remains the number one killer on Poland's roads. For 855 of those 3,202 victims, the principle cause of their fatal accident was excessive speed (27%). This is down from 29% in 2013, but still compares negatively to the UK, where excessive speed was the primary cause of 20% road deaths in 2013.

Drunk drivers were responsible for the deaths of 363 people in Poland last year. Of those fatal accidents caused by drunks, 175 deaths were the result of excessive speed.

While incidents of egregious driving are fewer than they were when I arrived in Poland and the mayhem and carnage on the roads was of a different order of magnitude than today, I still witness cases that beggar belief. Just look at this driver (below). There is a 60 kph speed limit on ul. Karczunkowska and yet driver of the silver Citroen has sailed past a string of traffic at around 90+, ignoring the pedestrian crossing (which my children used for many years on their way to school).

This kind of recklessness behind the wheel deserves punishment such as being deprived of access to a car for one year. The irony is that had I not pixelated out his number plate, I'd have been the one facing legal difficulties, not the driver whom I'd caught in the act earlier this week.

The Polish government has not engaged in the kinds of public awareness campaigns seen over the decades in the UK. Rather it gets worked up in moral panics in the mass media like the one last January when an over-the-limit driver killed six pedestrians prompting a silly argument about alco-locks built into cars.

In the UK, public information campaigns such as Kill Your Speed, Not A Child or Twenty's Plenty, alongside heavy use of speed cameras, has had the effect of significantly reducing fatal accidents to a level which is among the lowest in the world. Road safety has nothing to do with the number of vehicles on the road. It is all about civilisation. Which is in turn about mutual respect for other road users, in particular more vulnerable ones.

Here in Poland, it is the private sector and voluntary organisations that lead the campaigning for safer roads (see this campaign from last year, run by an insurance company's charitable foundation) . Shame on you in government for not taking the lead!

As last year, I end with these official recommendations from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for British citizens travelling to Poland:
In 2013 there were 3,357 road deaths in Poland. This equates to 8.7 road deaths per 100,000 of population and compares to the UK average of 2.7 road deaths per 100,000 of population in 2013. 
Driving on Polish roads can be hazardous. There are few dual carriageways and even main roads between major towns and cities can be narrow and poorly surfaced. Streetlights, even in major cities, are weak.  
Local driving standards are poor: speed limits, traffic lights and road signs are often ignored and drivers rarely indicate before manoeuvring.

* Full Polish accident stats for 2014 here.

This time last year:
Putin: tactical genius, strategic failure

This time three years ago:
My photos turned into beautiful watercolours

This time four years ago:
Silver birches and blue skies

This time six years ago:
Jeziorki's wetlands in late winter (2009)

This time seven years ago:
Jeziorki's wetlands in late winter (2008)


Marek said...

Transport for London have recently done a Share the Road campaign to raise awareness of the shared space philosophy of road useage.

Anonymous said...

"Drivers rarely indicate before manoeuvring"... Bez przesady, nie jest aż tak źle :)

Michael Dembinski said...

@ Marek

Exactly - campaigns to raise awareness such as this need to be blasted 24/7 to Polish motorists. Twice in the past three days I've had a close shave on pedestrian crossings.

@ Anonymous

You're right - lack of indicating is no longer the issue it was. I'll let the Embassy know:-)