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Debates
Wednesday, 28 September 2005 - Strasbourg OJ edition

30. EU road-safety action programme
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  President. – The next item is the debate on the report (A6-0225/2005) by Ari Vatanen on behalf of the Committee on Transport and Tourism on the Commission communication ‘European Road Safety Action Programme: halving the number of road accident victims in the European Union by 2010: a shared responsibility’ [2004/2162(INI)].

 
  
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  Ari Vatanen (PPE-DE), rapporteur. Mr President, it is a pity that this debate is taking place so late, because when you drive home on an empty stomach that can be a safety hazard too. Debate on traffic safety is a question of attitude. It is a question and a test of how we value human life. That is what it amounts to: is human life precious to us?

The figures regarding traffic safety are as bleak and grim as the weather outside tonight. There are about 50 000 deaths per year, about 2 million people are injured. It is the main cause of death in the under-50s age group. It costs about 2% of GNP, equivalent to EUR 200 billion. But that is only money. We have to realise that what is at stake is the human suffering.

Why do we do so little? It is because it is not the Concorde which crashes, it is not the pride of the UK and France which crashes. When that happened, all Concordes were grounded immediately. No stone was left unturned in seeking to remedy the problem. But when it comes to traffic safety, it is just one family crying here, another family crying there. Their lives are shattered, amputated. You do not recover from it. You have to live with it. And perhaps only those people who have experienced that know what the grief of a family means. When I was a small boy I was with my entire family in a motor car when my father was killed. I remember him leaning against the steering wheel, that anxiety in my chest. I am sure that experience has left me with a bigger internal handicap than I dare to admit.

There is still so much that we could do and can do. First of all law enforcement. Okay, that is not an EU matter, it is not within our competence, but that is by far the most efficient way to get things done - through law enforcement, just abiding by and obeying the current rules. On the way here tonight I saw the French police carrying out an alcohol check. When more radars appeared on French roads, immediately fatalities came down.

Sometimes I think that, although it is a matter for subsidiarity, EU citizens should be protected from their respective governments. I am sorry to say that, but that is how it is, because we do not seem to realise the magnitude of the problem. There are incredible discrepancies between different States. It is up to eight times safer in the UK or in Sweden than in some of the new Member States - eight times - imagine that incredible diversity! We have to learn from one another. From now on we must carry out a systematic scrutiny of what is going from country to country. We have to render that transparent, so that people know about it, so that they make a noise about it, so that they create political pressure. We must coordinate our actions and we must disseminate our best practices. If we make mistakes, why should those mistakes be made in those countries which are still on the road to development?

We have to name, shame and fame. That leads to action. When people have been woken up they will demand action from the politicians in their various Member States.

At an EU level we can promote new technology, we can promote new cars with fiscal incentives. At the moment a Chinese car is coming onto the European market, with no EU approval. That should be stopped, because it is downright dangerous. We must invest more money in infrastructure. We should have an infrastructure directive on TEN roads. Europeans are mobile thanks to the European road network. It is not justified, or fair on European competitiveness, that we should spend so much money on railways, which serve so little purpose compared to the road network. We have to be just in that allocation.

Yet things are not so bleak. Traffic has grown threefold since 1970 and yet fatalities have been halved. So cultures can be changed. We must believe in the new generation. At the end of the day, whatever we do, responsibility always lies with the individual. At the end of the day we are responsible.

Mr President, I know my time is up. The EU must act decisively. When our time really is up, hopefully it will not happen on a road. There are still many small boys out there waiting for their fathers.

 
  
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  Jacques Barrot, Vice-President of the Commission. (FR) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to start by thanking Mr Vatanen for his excellent work. Over the next few months, the Commission will provide an assessment of the third Road Safety Action Programme and Mr Vatanen’s comprehensive and balanced report will provide useful fodder for the considerations that the Commission needs to take to prepare this mid-term review.

This report demonstrates the need for common initiatives at European level. To follow up on the 2001 White Paper on European transport policy, the European Union had already set the objective of halving the number of deaths on the roads of the 15 Member States at that time by 2010. The benefit of this objective was that it mobilised each country within the framework of its national competences. The results are noticeable. Today, in the enlarged EU, some Member States have made remarkable progress in implementing credible and dissuasive control and sanction policies. In other countries, however, progress has been more modest and shows that considerable efforts remain to be made.

We must recognise that the Union’s policy on road safety has remained in the embryonic stages for too long, because of the subsidiarity principle. You just have to think back to the unsuccessful debate on setting a general blood alcohol limit; and the current difficulties in making certain Member States adopt the revised directive on driving licences, even though it is essential for preventing fraud, also bear witness to this.

Without anticipating the mid-term review that the Commission will publish shortly, three points in Mr Vatanen’s report are worth commenting on. Firstly, we need to ensure that the essential rules, whether with regard to speed limits, blood alcohol limits or the requirement to wear a seatbelt, are respected. At the moment, we cannot help but notice that Member States’ interventions against drivers who breach these rules are limited, in the absence of cross-border cooperation.

I am particularly grateful to Mr Vatanen for advocating considerably closer cooperation between Member States to control and deal with offences. I would point out to you that the Commission intends to launch an initiative next year to improve the organisation of cross-border enforcement.

My second comment relates to the improvement of infrastructure. Progress could be made everywhere and, in some Member States, considerable efforts are needed. The European Union, via the cofinancing that it provides under the Structural Funds, already contributes to the construction of safer and more modern infrastructure. A legislative instrument, as Mr Vatanen said, could prove necessary to make impact assessments, audits and road safety inspections, including dealing with black spots, more systematic.

My third comment is that technological innovation in vehicles is a decisive element in road safety. A dialogue has been launched between the Commission and the European automotive industry. This relates to the initiative known as CARS 21, as part of which your Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection will soon organise a Parliamentary forum. The technical standards needed to enable innovations play an important role, but we must, as Mr Vatanen points out, properly understand the costs and benefits of these innovations before we bring them into widespread use. It is in this spirit that the Commission is currently assessing the possibilities for new initiatives to encourage the installation of mirrors that eliminate the blind spot and the use of daytime running lights.

Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I would remind you that opinion polls show that European citizens put road safety at the top of their list of concerns, thus echoing what Mr Vatanen explained so well, illustrating his speech with some personal memories, which were very moving.

The European Union cannot continue to do nothing in the face of the citizens’ worries. Of course, we must take subsidiarity into account, but, in view of the increase in international traffic on trans-European networks, in other words the number of foreign drivers on the main arterial routes of each country, we cannot avoid asking ourselves whether the limits currently set on the EU’s actions are the right ones and whether we should simply decide, in the name of subsidiarity, to leave the Member States to face this scourge alone.

In order to achieve our consistent collective objective of reducing the number of deaths on the roads by 2010, above and beyond the initiatives that I have already mentioned, the exchanges of good practice and the initial considerations need to be as open as possible, and relate particularly to the adoption of measures targeted at professional drivers and at young drivers, who are particularly prone to accidents. Mr Vatanen’s report is therefore very timely. I would like to thank him for his very open reflections on the problem as a whole and I will listen attentively, Mr President, to the comments by the Members, who I know are keen to make progress on the good cause of road safety.

 
  
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  Dieter-Lebrecht Koch, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. – (DE) Mr President, imagine it is 31 December and the news tickers are announcing 50 000 dead and several million injured, some seriously, in Europe. What horror, what an outcry this information should provoke. Yet people are indifferent, unmoved. Was it a false alarm? No; it was only that year’s statistics on victims of road accidents in the European Union.

Have we really done enough to combat indifference towards road accidents and to improve road safety? Could it be that vehicles are, after all, modern weapons in the hands of millions of Europeans? There is no need to worry: no one in this House is considering banning vehicles; it is only in the way we use them that a decisive improvement is needed.

I should like to extend my thanks and congratulations to Mr Vatanen for his excellent report. He succeeded in showing the complexity and interactions of hazards on our roads, so that both the Commission and the Member States can be obliged to do more towards the achievement of road safety in Europe.

We urge the Commission to help towards accelerating the implementation of the Action Programme, and we also encourage it to develop a long-term road-safety concept, which goes far beyond 2010 and is oriented towards the ‘zero vision’, namely the avoidance of all fatalities caused by road accidents.

I welcome the choice of an integrated approach, which takes into account all three components of road traffic: road users – drivers and pedestrians – the vehicles themselves, and also infrastructure such as roads and tunnels. Vehicles can be equipped with the latest technologies such as Electronic Stability Control, Advanced Driver Assistance Systems, Intelligent Speed Adaptation or eCall, but there will be no improvement in safety unless there is intelligent interaction with the person actually doing the driving.

 
  
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  Inés Ayala Sender, on behalf of the PSE Group. (ES) Mr President, Commissioner, I would firstly like to thank Mr Vatanen for the huge job he has done on this report and for his dedication to it, and I would also like once again to express the frustration I feel given the great sense of expectation and potential I felt, knowing that Mr Vatanen was the rapporteur for this report. In his report, it is clear that his diagnosis is not wrong, in fact he acknowledges it, he emphasises it and presents it in such a dramatic fashion as the figures. The full magnitude of the problem is not therefore expressed.

He also points out that there is a great discrepancy between the safety percentages of the different Member States, but I believe that that discrepancy does not exist in the diagnoses or in the most useful instrument: the legislation, setting limits and dissuasive measures.

What is truly frustrating is to see that what we are proposing today for the European Union, for a Union in which, as the Commissioner has said quite rightly, we citizens are seeking a strong message and added value, in terms of what each Member State has been wisely imposing, there are great differences and, sometimes, enormous deficiencies, in relation to the legislation on speed limits, limits for alcohol in the blood and the use of safety belts.

In this regard, we believe that this is the time to take that step and the Socialist Group has presented an amendment in which we call upon the Commission, following the evaluation of the Recommendation, specifically in the case of limits for alcohol in the blood, also to offer us the necessary legislative measures applicable to those three aspects that are fundamental, which all the European citizens and all the Member States recognise. But they also recognise that there are problems. And it is in relation to these coordination problems that the greatest weakness lies. We would therefore call on the Commission to be understanding and to accept our amendment.

 
  
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  Hannu Takkula, on behalf of the ALDE Group. (FI) Mr President, Commissioner, I too would like to begin my minute-long speech by thanking the rapporteur, Ari Vatanen, for this excellent and thorough report. The report reflects Mr Vatanen’s expertise and experience. Moreover, his calling as someone who preaches road safety is reflected in this report in the form of positive mediation and action to support the aim to actually halve road deaths by the year 2010, which is our common objective.

The report contains some excellent proposals concerning compliance with rules and legal provisions relating to seatbelts, speed limits and alcohol. It is very important to invest in roads and to remember the importance of education and enlightened attitudes. In addition to this, we need awareness, since the biggest threat on the roads is always to be found between the steering wheel and the driver’s seat.

 
  
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  Margrete Auken, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. (DA) Mr President, I too should like to say thank you for, above all, the first part of Mr Vatanen’s introduction today. I thought it was a quite brilliant description of the extent of the problem. The problem is on a horribly huge scale, and it is appalling that we are not doing anything more serious about it. Indeed, I have to say that the proposals produced by Mr Vatanen really have no bearing on the extent of the problem. The larger and broader roads would be there for many more cars to drive faster on. We can say with some certainty that the result would be more accidents when, instead, we should be limiting traffic.

I am delighted that the report mentions vulnerable road users and that the aim is to have no accidents at all. The fact is, however, that this report would offer no protection at all to vulnerable road users unless we were to have the amendments adopted that would set fixed speed limits in Europe, namely a maximum of 130 km per hour on motorways and 30 km per hour in towns, and unless, at the same time, something serious were done to have these requirements complied with. I think that the proposals, pathetic as they are, fall spectacularly short of dealing with the problems so splendidly described by Mr Vatanen.

 
  
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  Ewa Hedkvist Petersen (PSE). – (SV) Mr President, I too wish to thank Mr Vatanen for this report and for a notable piece of work. What we face is a serious problem, but I want to point out that we are on the right road in Europe. We have a huge number of fatalities – far too many; indeed, no figure is acceptable – but the numbers are going down. It is important for Europe to be a model in the global work to promote road safety, and that is something we can be.

We are a model where technical development is concerned. If we obtain better cars in Europe and the rest of the world, we shall reduce the number of fatalities. We must make use of constructive examples, such as the proposal we have in Amendment 5 whereby those purchasing haulage services would be urged to demand road safety from those selling the services. Use can be made of legislation, for example in relation to alcohol and driving, for we know that no one should ever drive when drunk. I do not, however, think that legislation should be used as a tool where speed is concerned, because the state of a road can vary a very great deal, and one road be in a different condition to another. We need, then, not to take a uniform view of road safety. In that way, we can set a good example to the rest of the world.

 
  
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  Jacques Barrot, Vice-President of the Commission. (FR) Mr President, I will be fairly brief, but that is not to say that I am underestimating this problem, which is a major one. I am therefore very pleased with this debate. I find comfort in the conviction that effective control is vital. It is true that we must have a better influence on the behaviour of drivers, particularly of young drivers.

We must also not forget the importance of education from a very early age and we must mobilise all our energy and gather all our resources to combat this scourge. That is clearly a responsibility shared between the European Union, our Member States and our regions, but also by every one of us.

I would like to say quite simply, echoing Mr Vatanen’s report, that the three institutions of the Union now seem to be converging towards the same objective: namely the desire to make progress down this path. It is about time, because we have gone from 50 000 deaths to 43 000 deaths in the 25 Member States. We are a long way from reaching the targets we set ourselves. As a consequence, we are going to have to redouble our efforts.

As for the Council, on 4 and 5 November we will hold an informal meeting in Verona on the subject of road safety. I also know that the Austrian Presidency will also want to work hard to come up with new solutions.

I am therefore delighted that Parliament feels so committed and I must say that, with regard to the Commission’s commitment and to my own personal commitment, you can be certain that I really will make every possible effort both to convince the Member States to get involved in considerably more courageous policies and to assess what the European Union, at its level, can provide and require. That is why this report is so very apropos, and it comes as a wake-up call for consciences in this matter, which, indeed, requires from all of us resolute and determined ethical behaviour.

 
  
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  President. – The debate is closed.

The vote will take place on Thursday at 12 noon.

Written statement (Rule 142)

 
  
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  Zita Gurmai (PSE). – The target of achieving a further reduction of 50 % of road accident victims by 2010 might be ambitious but not impossible through proper and combined measures. The setting of targets, allocation of responsibilities and proper planning can contribute to the success of this ambitious programme. Legislation, social acceptance, planning and monitoring are integrated elements of this strategy.

There is a striking diversity between Member States in many aspects which should be taken into consideration: cultural, diversity in attitude and, one of the biggest difference, economic wealth, the latter being the major cause of bad quality of road, limited length of highways. This is also one of the reasons of grave road safety records of most of the ten new Member States this is mainly why we are lagging far behind the EU-15.

I’m sure that the introduction of the European driving licence, the strict conditions to get that licence and enabling the physical and mental faculties of drivers and their driving skills checked over time is a must.

It is extremely important that proper continuously updated information and monitoring network throughout the EU should be established which could help a lot with cooperation of authorities in road safety surveillance.

 
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