Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Road safety in Poland - the trend improves, too slowly

Yesterday's press release from the Polish police with the road accident statistics for 2015 was moderately heartening - the downward trend in numbers killed continues to fall. For the first time since proper records were kept, the death toll fell below 3,000 (2,904). This headline figure is some 10% less than in 2014 (3,202). These are provisional figures; no doubt there are people in hospital today seriously injured in crashes who will succumb to those injuries. The 10% improvement is better than the 4.2% fall between 2015 and 2013.

The latest improvement is welcome, but it needs to be placed alongside the UK figure (for 2014, as the stats for last year will not be published for a few months yet). This is 1,775 - in a country of 64 million people and 32 million cars.

As a pedestrian walking the streets of Warsaw, I can see mercifully fewer examples of outright stupidity among motorists, while measures to stay safe (such as the obligation to wear reflective clothing at night on unlit roads) are contributing to a fall in numbers killed on the streets.

But if Poland were to have the same road deaths per million citizens ratio as the UK, the numbers killed on Polish roads each year would have to fall to below 1,400 - more than half of last year's toll. In 1991, as soon as Poles managed to shake off the shackles of communism and the wealthier ones acquired fast cars, the number of people killed on Polish roads was a staggering 7,900. So progress has been made.

Even so. Two thousand nine hundred and four human lives have been needlessly destroyed on Poland's roads last year. This is still entirely unacceptable.

A parliamentary bill to improve road safety by imposing a UK-style obligation to stop for pedestrians standing by zebra crossings was overturned by the Senate. Had this become law, this would have helped towards reducing the death toll among pedestrians. In 2013, 248 people were killed on Poland's zebra crossings. On British zebra crossings? Eight. That's right - eight (a 60% increase on 2012, when it was just five).

Senator Aleksander Pociej (PO) was the leading figure in overturning the lower house's road safety bill. His main concern was not with slaughtered pedestrians but with poor motorists sitting in urban traffic jams of their own making.

To make Polish zebra crossings as safe as British ones. huge investment in lighting (Belisha beacons), road markings (zig-zag lines) and public information campaigns would also be needed as well as a simple change to the letter of the law.

Below: overtaking on zebra crossings is totally and utterly unacceptable. It is incredibly dangerous. I saw the dead body of a woman killed on a zebra crossing round the corner on Puławska, killed by a driver overtaking a stream of slower-moving traffic on the right. Drivers caught doing something like this should be banned from driving for a few months, to help them reflect on the errors of their ways.

Meanwhile Warsaw's speed cameras have been shut down as responsibility for their operation passes from local authorities to the police.

Our local one on ul. Puławska (Dąbrówka, Kuropatwy) has been covered in black plastic sheeting since the end of last month, yet I notice (to my delight) that most drivers rather than blasting down Puławska at 80-90km/h do actually slow down, aware of the fact that there's a zebra crossing and a tricky road junction there.

Incidentally, while black BMWs remain number one in the headlines when it comes to cars driven by the perpetrators of road accidents, elderly Honda Civics from the 1990s are involved in more than their fair share of egregious driving.

Wishing all my readers - and indeed everyone in Poland - a safe 2016 on the roads.

This time last year:
Convenience and the economics of bottled water

This time two years ago:
Locally, it's the little things...

This time last three years ago:
Warsaw bids farewell to its old trams

This time eight years ago:
Five departures from Okęcie


Bern.d Zimmermann said...

Interesting read, which I can fully support.

In my opinion there are mainly four very questionable points, which add to the bad road-safety in Poland:

1) Far too high limit for loosing the drivers-license: having it at 50km/h in built-up areas, it means you can go as high as 50/60km/h without serious sentence..

2) Overtaking in general, especially in the countryside, often with almost no margin in space.

3) Turning left on crossroads, very often with no or misleading traffic-lights!

4) People not using their mirrors at all

A very long way to go still..

Bern.d Zimmermann said...

Meant "as high as 100/110km/h" in above post