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Fewer traffic fatalities by 2030: this may change

November 29, 2022

Traffic casualty figures

First some figures on traffic fatalities, as distressing as this subject is. In 2019, there were 661 traffic deaths and 6,900 serious traffic injuries in the Netherlands. A halving by 2030 would mean no more than 330 traffic fatalities and 3,450 serious traffic injuries in that year. How can this be achieved, knowing that more people are participating in traffic every year? SWOV did extensive research and provides estimates of what effects certain measures may have.

List of proposed measures/themes

On Jan. 27, 2022, a roundtable meeting was organized by the Ministry of IenW in which various civil society organizations could propose measures to improve road safety. Those organizations were ANWB (also on behalf of the Traffic Safety Coalition), CROW, Fietsersbond, Gemeente Rotterdam (also on behalf of the G4), IPO, Ministry of JenV, SWOV, TeamAlert, VNG, Veilig Verkeer Nederland and the Ministry of IenW itself. This resulted in this list of proposed measures/themes to be calculated by SWOV:

Traffic casualties

The report considered two scenarios:

Scenario 1: The first scenario does include casualty data for 2020 and 2021 – the corona years with less mobility – in the risk extrapolation. This scenario assumes, as it were, that the decline in traffic fatalities recorded during the corona years continues. For traffic fatalities, this means that even without additional measures, the number will decrease slightly toward 2030. For serious traffic injuries, the increase observed in recent years continues at a slower pace toward 2030.

Scenario 2: The second scenario excludes casualty data for 2020 and 2021. This scenario assumes, as it were, that the decline in traffic fatalities during the corona years was only temporary and that the traffic picture will return to the same way it was before corona. For traffic fatalities, this means an increase is expected by 2030. For serious traffic injuries, the sharp increase in pre-corona is expected to continue under this scenario.

The study’s conclusion

The report concludes the following: “The goal of halving traffic casualties by 2030 seems too ambitious. And thus an ambition of 0 traffic casualties in 2050 is also far away. This does not alter the fact that a substantial reduction in traffic fatalities and/or serious traffic injuries is possible. That there are measures that can prevent 100 deaths or 2,000 serious traffic injuries every year is good news.”

The conclusion continues, “The base projections, the forecast for 2030 without additional measures, show that taking measures is also necessary to reduce the impact of traffic unsafety on our society. In both calculated scenarios, the number of serious traffic injuries increases. And it is not likely that this increase will stop after 2030. As close to a halving as possible, but at least initiating a decrease should be a goal. The results of this study show what (set of) measures are most likely to achieve that. It is sometimes said that all the low-hanging fruit has already been picked. This calculation shows that in terms of effectiveness there is still some fruit hanging on the tree. It’s just a question of who reaches the step to pick it,” the researchers said.

Road safety changes

The researchers consider the halving of the number of traffic casualties in 2030 compared to 2019, rather than 2020, because that year is not representative due to mobility-limiting corona measures. Here we look at traffic fatalities and serious traffic injuries.

Things are going to change anyway in terms of road safety. For example, as of Jan. 1, 2023, all moped riders must wear helmets. The requirements for this helmet are similar to those for a speed-pedelec helmet.

Intelligent speed limiter

The European Commission further mandates that from 2024 all new cars must have an alert form of ISA, which is an intelligent speed limiter. Cars are on average 11 years old in the Netherlands; however, new cars are driven more than old cars. According to the researchers, “We therefore assume that by 2030 about half (50%) of the miles driven in new cars will be driven with this form of ISA.”

Advanced Emergency Braking

Advanced Emergency Braking (AEB) is another European Commission (EC, 2018) measure that will apply to new cars starting in 2024. This system intervenes when it detects a vehicle in front and then performs emergency braking. A collision cannot always be avoided, but hard braking will reduce the impact of that collision. According to a systematic literature review, this could lead to a 43% reduction in injury rear-end collisions if every car were equipped with AEB.

Says the researchers, “There are also systems on the market that can detect pedestrians and – to a much lesser extent – cyclists. However, no research has been found on the effects of these systems in practice. This is probably because they have only been on the market for a short time and are also still under development.”

Pay by use

The coalition agreement states that the government will prepare to introduce a “pay by use” system in automobility by 2030. Pricing can be done in several ways, with the greatest effects on road safety to be expected if unsafe roads become more expensive than safe roads. Given the primary purpose of pricing, to combat congestion on the relatively safe highways, this does not make sense and a “flat” mileage charge is expected to be introduced, that is, a fixed amount per kilometer driven, regardless of road type.

According to CPB and PBL’s Kansrijk mobiliteitsbeleid 2020 report, a flat charge of 3 cents/km, offset by lower motor vehicle taxes, leads to 4.7% – 8.8% fewer passenger car kilometers; 10-25 traffic fatalities saved and 100-250 serious traffic injuries. This casualty reduction is the direct result of mobility change: fewer miles lead to fewer casualties.

Alcohol in traffic?

The European Transport Safety Council (ETSC) recommends zero tolerance for alcohol on the road, with a 0.2 ‰ alcohol limit in practice in Europe. At promilages below 0.5‰, driving ability already appears to be negatively affected and there is an increased accident risk.

The researchers say, “Several countries have found evidence that lowering the alcohol limit from 0.5 or 0.6‰ to a lower limit (0.2 or 0.3‰) has a positive effect on road safety. However, the effectiveness of a limit reduction depends on the level of traffic enforcement. Most road users adjust their behavior only if they feel there is a reasonable chance of being checked. The relatively low chance of being caught was probably also the reason why the previously reduced limit for novice drivers had no effect in the Netherlands.”

Substantial casualty savings by 2030

The researchers also want to say the following, “Looking at the list of measures, substantial casualty savings are possible by 2030. It is mainly measures that increase bicycle safety (safe bicycle infrastructure, from 50 km/h to 30 km/h within built-up areas and bicycle helmets) that have a major effect on both traffic fatalities and serious traffic injuries. Here it is important to realize that we have not calculated a measure for the bicycle helmet, but only the effect when (all or half of the) cyclists wear a helmet.

The effect of measures, such as a helmet requirement, will always be smaller than the effects in this calculation because measures are rarely 100% complied with. Speed-reducing measures, such as ISA and doubling automated speed enforcement, have a particularly large effect on traffic fatalities. That measures that promote bicycle safety have such a large effect in 2030 is not surprising. In today’s road traffic, nearly 70% of serious traffic injuries and more than a third of traffic fatalities are cyclists. In both scenarios calculated here, the number of cyclists, and especially the number of older cyclists, continues to grow substantially.”