Belgium's bid to end the road bloodbath
Belgium's roads are among Europe's deadliest. Jon Eldridge reports on moves to make them safer.
"Kill your speed!" is the message police in Belgium have been sending out to motorists in October. The objective — to reduce average car speeds by 10km per hour — comes in the country's worst month for death on the roads.
Statistics show there are more road fatalities in October than in any other period. According to figures from the Belgian road safety organisation, l'Institut Belge pour la Sécurité Routière (IBSR), in the ten years ending in 2000 there were 1,455 road deaths in October, significantly more than the second-worst month, August, with1,386 fatalities.
40 million vehicles face speed traps
In a broad attempt to halve the number of deaths throughout the year by 2010, police are targeting sections of roadways where most accidents occur. The aim is to check the speed of 40 million vehicles a year, meaning the average motorist will show up on a police radar screen eight times a year.
"We know how many people we have and we know what we can do. It is a realistic plan, and there are going to be more personnel in the services who require it," a federal police spokesperson said.
It a long-term objective, however.
"Police checks will increase progressively so that we achieve this objective in 2008," said Benoit Godart of ISBR.
In Brussels in October, controls are being set up at 10 points, including between Tervuren and Vilvorde, and between Drogenbos and the interchanges for Grand-Bigard. Drivers caught exceeding speed limits or committing other offences will receive a booklet from IBSR, Prudence sur le ring, that contains information about driving in inclement conditions like fog and heavy rain…October weather.
But it is not simply a case of a return to bad weather causing the high accident figures for October. For example, on Sunday 22 October 2000, 15 people died on the roads in spite of the sunny weather — the warmth had apparently lured many people out for a drive. Similarly, the highest number of accidents (but not deaths) on the roads occurs in May, when owing to the public holidays that fall in that month, traffic is usually heavy. Similarly, Fridays and Saturdays are especially dangerous.
Near the bottom of the league
Belgium compares poorly with other EU countries when it comes to road safety. The average number of people killed annually in traffic accidents is 14.36 per 100,000 inhabitants, considerably higher than the EU average of10.90.
British roads are the safest in Europe with 6.00 deaths a year per 100,000, followed by Sweden and the Netherlands.
But Belgium is not at the bottom of the league. That dubious distinction belongs to Spain, Luxembourg, Portugal and Greece, in the order of increasing number of road fatalities.
Belgium's problem, says the IBSR, is the result of weak road infrastructure, a lack of police controls and a high number of danger spots where there is a high volume of traffic leaving the road.
The poor road infrastructure in Belgium is a legacy of the county's oft-bemoaned lack of urban planning. Main roads often pass through small villages where local traffic impedes the flow.
The ISBR says that until recently the needs of convenience have outweighed safety concerns. It points to improvement in recent years in safety surrounding dangerous junctions and roundabouts.