Fewer injuries and deaths – road traffic safety has been progressing in the right direction during the past ten years

Fewer injuries and deaths – road traffic safety has been progressing in the right direction during the past ten years

Published 31.12.2019

Road traffic safety has improved during the past decade. Among other things, new, safer vehicles and making the area on the sides of the road safer have influenced the development. The development of the safety of level crossings has been moderate.

We will remove more than 150 level crossings.

According to the Finnish Police, 272 people died and 7,673 were injured in road traffic in 2010. In this decade, these numbers have decreased.

‘The preliminary figures for 2018 are 234 fatalities and approximately 5,300 injuries. Both fatalities and injuries have decreased, while traffic has increased,’ says Auli Forsberg, traffic system and traffic safety expert from the Finnish Transport Infrastructure Agency. In 2018, there was approximately 7.6% more road traffic than in 2010.

Starting from 2014, another way to follow the development of traffic safety has been the number of severe injuries. They have also decreased. In 2014, approximately 950 people were injured severely in road traffic. In 2017, the same number was 829. This is the right direction.

The figures show that the number of injuries has decreased by several thousands. The trend of road traffic fatalities is also decreasing, even if slowly. What has caused this positive development? ‘The key determining factors include safer vehicles, a safer traffic environment, and the behaviour of the drivers,’ Ms Forsberg notes.

Typically, new vehicles are safer than old ones. The average age of vehicles used in traffic in Finland is approximately 12 years, which means that the rate of vehicle stock renewal is fairly slow.

In addition to vehicle safety, traffic infrastructure also affects accidents. Roughly 50% of road traffic accidents and roughly 70% of traffic fatalities occur on highways. The higher number of fatalities on highways is explained by the higher driving speeds. The most destructive type of accident is a head-on collision. To create a safer traffic environment, the Finnish Transport Infrastructure Agency has, together with the ELY Centres, replaced guardrails, among other things. More flexible railings make collisions less dangerous.

Likewise, driver behaviour seems to have improved. This can be seen in better proactivity and taking other road users into account, as well as the correct situational speed, for instance. There is a slight decrease in the average speed of vehicles and the share of speeding.

Even though the development has been positive, many still die in road traffic. The number of fatalities has decreased, but not enough.

‘Finland has committed to halving the number of road traffic fatalities from the level of 2010. This means that 135 people at maximum would die in road traffic in 2020. At the moment, it seems like the goal will not be reached,’ Ms Forsberg relates. In light of the preliminary figures for the current year, it does not differ much from 2018.

There is still plenty of room for development, especially with the road safety of cyclists. Nearly every tenth fatality in road traffic was a cyclist. ‘This is a cause for concern. The transport system needs to be developed so that pedestrians and cyclists could also travel more safely,’ Ms Forsberg declares.

The annual variation in the safety of level crossings is high

On average, approximately 20–30 level crossing accidents per year have occurred in the state-owned railway network during this decade. The annual variation is fairly high.

‘During this decade, the lowest number of level crossing accidents in the state-owned railway network happened in 2011, when there were 15 accidents, in which two people died. This year’s level is about the same,’ says road traffic safety expert Jarmo Koistinen.

There are approximately 2,700 level crossings in the Finnish railway network, 2,000 of which do not have a warning system. Most of the level crossings are located in the railway trunk network as well as low-traffic railways.

‘We have a four-year level crossing programme underway; it will last until 2021. During this time, we will remove more than 150 level crossings and improve 120 level crossings,’ Mr Koistinen notes.

According to the accident forecast, the level crossing programme would prevent more than 40 level crossing accidents during the next ten years.