High time for a serious overhaul of the traffic code

Quick-fix is the best way to describe efforts to review the national traffic code. As the dialogue between relevant ministries remains incomplete, there appears to be little commitment to driving the knife in deep and removing lingering problems once and for all, and bigger fines have been the only tangible product so far. Transport and Communications Minister Michalis Liapis is seeking the support of experts and the active participation of other relevant authorities, but his efforts have born little fruit and his drive for an all-encompassing approach to the problem remains stillborn. Moreover, the committee charged with reviewing the traffic code (mostly consisting of legal experts) has already notched up a few resignations due to the differences of opinion that have arisen at negotiations. The Coordination Committee for Road Safety, called for by the minister himself, which was meant to function either as an independent secretariat or as a department of the Transport Ministry, never actually came together, while an issue of major importance, that of road safety education in schools, remains unaddressed. Last fall, following a fatal accident at Malliakos in which seven students were killed, the Transport Ministry announced its commitment to imposing measures to reduce the number traffic accidents, as well as an overhaul of the traffic code. The committee met and set upon its task, using the French traffic code – which imposed strict measures and stringent fines that contributed significantly to the reduction of traffic accidents in that country – as its model. A stricter code, automatic fining procedures, placing speed radar equipment along the entire traffic network and road safety education at schools were the artillery for the campaign against road deaths. However, in the matter of the traffic code review, negotiations fell apart, as the committee members failed to agree on new speed limits for the road network. New Democracy MP and committee member Aris Stathakis, a specialist on road safety issues, voiced his disagreement with the fact that the committee should be in charge of this decision and requested that it be put in the hands of the Environment, Town Planning and Public Works Ministry (YPEHODE) to re-examine speed limits across the country. He said, «When existing speed limits are illogical and when there are so many ludicrous limits, we all break them at some point and therefore learn to systematically ignore all road signs.» His request was never met, especially by YPEHODE, which deemed it «too difficult and time-consuming.» In an effort to reach a compromise, the other members of the traffic code review committee suggested that rather than changing the speed limits across the country, fines should simply be imposed on drivers who exceed existing limits by 20 km/hour. Matters, however, have not rested there. The government had also announced that measures should be taken not just against those who cause a traffic accident, but also against those who are reckless drivers, have had too much to drink (even if they are just within the legal limit), and those who are late paying fines. However, little has been done to succinctly define which violations are potentially life-threatening, while the government is being called upon to show zero tolerance toward such violations. Another problem is that very little has been made public about current efforts being made, neither to inform citizens of changes nor to simply convince them that a serious campaign has been launched. «If the traffic code just becomes stricter,» explains Stathakis, «and the public is not convinced of the energy the state is putting into it, very few will cooperate. The citizens have to participate in this effort or else it will be lost from day one. Fines, as steep as they may be, are not enough on their own.» Eurostat’s findings are clear: Traffic accidents cannot be attributed simply to a poor road network and a huge rise in the number of cars. They are caused by reckless driving, especially by young drivers, 84 percent of whom do not respect speed limits and 64 percent of whom do not respect stop signs. These are the same young people (seven out of 10) who said that when the traffic light is amber they will hit the gas, while only drivers over the age of 50 (or at least 75 percent of them) say that they stop at the amber light. What these numbers make clear is that the issue of road safety should also be the long-term concern of the Ministry of Education. A few months ago, Liapis and Education Minister Marietta Giannakou sat down to discuss the matter for the first time and to address both the issue of making school outings safer and introducing road safety education to all grades. The result of this meeting was the publication of a memo concerning stricter safety measures for the buses and coaches carrying schoolchildren. The ministers also agreed to introduce road safety classes to every school in the country. However, the plan hit a snag when it became apparent that there is no teacher’s guide for this subject and that teachers taking their students to traffic training parks would have nothing to work with. But, according to information revealed to Kathimerini, a teacher’s guide does exist. It is the same one published by the Athens Municipality two years ago and distributed to 171 schools, and it contains material akin to that taught in 13 European countries. And while the education minister has agreed to a proposal to hand this material out to teachers so that the program may come into effect, the booklet remains in her drawer.

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