Greece’s unsafe roads

Road accidents each year claim 1,500 lives, while 4,000 are grievously injured, contributing to Greece’s status as the fourth least safe country among the 25 European Union member states on matters of road safety, data presented yesterday by the Technical Chamber of Greece’s Road Safety Observatory show. The good news is that the number of dead from road accidents has decreased 26 percent compared to its 1998 peak. It has stabilized, however, around 1,500 since 2002, reaching 1,470 in 2005, according to the latest Public Order Ministry data. The likelihood of a serious road accident in Greece per kilometer of national highways is nine times higher than in France or Germany. Greece’s national road network is deficient and badly maintained. Local authorities are responsible for about nine-tenths of the network but maintenance has often been the victim of competing and badly coordinated state and local agencies. The Road Safety Observatory members told reporters that the national road network was last classified in 1955, when almost all «national highways» of the time were single-lane roads each way. Moreover, national road maintenance is based upon a decree issued in 1929. A lot of money has been spent over the last decade and a half on improving the national road network and some improvements are visible. However, a great part of that money, mostly coming through EU aid programs, has not been well spent. The new Egnatia Highway, for example, still being built in northern Greece, does not have any distance indicators. In another notorious case, a tunnel that formed part of the Corinth-Tripolis highway, the first major modern project, built in the early to mid-1990s, was never used because the contractor did not properly align the two exits. Until now, one tunnel is used to serve both directions on the highway, making driving on the segment very dangerous. In this and other cases of shoddy work, contractors were not penalized. The increasing number of cars also increases the chances of accidents. It was said that on a segment of the Athens-Patras highway (from km 88 to km 145) accidents rose 155 percent last year. A great part of the highway beyond Corinth passes through built-up areas. Despite that, the Public Works Ministry has rejected the option of building a new highway further inland due to projected costs.