Speed cameras – for skiers?

21st January 2008, Comments 0 comments

Skiers face speed cameras as Swiss step up safety.

Berne, Switzerland (dpa) - There will be no getting away from speed cameras when drivers give up their cars and put on their skis at Swiss resorts this winter. In the pursuit of better safety, cameras have been positioned in a number of stations to help skiers learn to stay below 30 kilometres an hour.

The Swiss insurance company Suva is behind the safety campaign allowing skiers to pit themselves against radars placed at 13 destinations across the country, including Zermatt, Davos and Airolo in Ticino.

Nicole Demierre Rossier from Suva told DPA: "So far we have recorded speeds up to 40 kilometres an hour. People have no real idea how fast they are going."

The Swiss Accident Prevention Bureau claims there are 115,000 skiing and snowboarding accidents a year. Suva said skiers were reaching speeds of up to 50 kilometres an hour with sometimes tragic consequences, according to the organization. At such speeds, a collision is equivalent to falling almost ten metres and the force of the impact affects the severity of the injuries sustained.

The Swiss mountain rescue service Rega reported a record number of missions in November and December in response to winter sports accidents. They had 350 calls, twice the average recorded in the past ten years and the number of serious injuries was increasing.

A recent survey by the German-language newspaper Sonntagsblick said the majority of Swiss said they feared for their safety on the slopes and 54 percent called for special snow patrols to police the runs as they do in America and Canada, enforcing a code of conduct. Three-quarters of those questioned wanted helmets made compulsory while a third of skiers wanted separate runs for snowboarders.

Seilbahnen Schweiz (SBS), which operates Swiss ski lifts and is responsible for safety on the slopes, says staff already play a role by warning people if they see them acting in a dangerous way. They can also take away ski passes from people who breach resort codes and report those who ski in protected nature areas off-piste to police but does not believe it should go further.

Heinzer Andreas of SBS told dpa: "We try to promote safety but there is no law supporting a role for staff as police on the slopes in Switzerland. It is difficult to know whether it would help or not and we don't know how people would react."

In any case collisions made up the minority of accidents, said Andrea. Around 90 percent of accidents involved a single person.

And there is little sign that the large foreign market that helps feed the Swiss ski industry is deterred by safety concerns. Switzerland remains one of the world's most popular ski destinations. Germany is the most important source country but its appeal continues to spread in eastern Europe and Asia.

Now along with Germans, British, French, Americans and Italians, visitors from Belarus, Russia and Romania along with the Chinese and Indians are arriving in ever greater numbers, according to Swiss Tourism, the country's official tourism organization.

However some change is in the air. Some resorts have introduced speed limits such as Grindelwald in eastern Switzerland and at the start of this season, the Swiss Accident Prevention Bureau launched a campaign to make helmets compulsory, particularly for children.

Suva said the cost of skiing and snowboarding accidents had risen to 210 million francs (190 million dollars) in 2005 and it wants to bring the number down.

The ski radar tests carried out so far had shown people exceeding their perceived speed by up to 12 kilometres an hour even as they tried to stay below the recommended 30.

Suva's Nicole Demierre Rossier added: "Technical progress and better prepared runs mean people are going faster. The faster they go, the more they risk being seriously injured and we want to make them aware of that."

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