NEWS

Hidden victims of Greek road accidents

News of road accidents and their consequences for Greek society rarely goes beyond a dry enumeration of fatalities. The greater the number of those who die, the more extensive the report, which usually lists the ages of the dead and details of the families they leave behind. Rarely does one see any mention of an equally important problem, the thousands of people disabled in accidents who spend the rest of their lives in a wheelchair. Apart from their inner circle, few know about their crushed hopes, the everyday struggle to survive and do the most basic things and their great achievements in overcoming obstacles. Permanent disabilities caused by road accidents are estimated to be more than threefold the number of fatalities. In Greece, for example, where until 2007 more than 2,000 people lost their lives on the road every year, over 7,000 were left disabled. Every year the number of people with mobility problems grows, making improvements in state policy on the issue imperative. There is no infrastructure for rehabilitating and reintegrating those people into the labor market. «There is only one state rehabilitation center in Greece, and that has a limited number of beds and staff. The health minister himself has admitted in the past that this particular clinic should close and a new one created. Just think, the clinic has only 125 beds, when thousands are needed every year. At the same time, the patients who need them have multiple mobility problems that are not met by the state. If they do not have their family at their side to look after them, they are in dire straits. A large proportion of people with disabilities do not survive due to poor treatment. There is no record of the number,» commented Vassilis Dimitriadis, president of the National Federation of Mobility Impaired People, who is also on the board of the International Federation of Persons with Physical Disability. The state gives little support to the families of people disabled in accidents. «An estimated 10 percent of injuries caused in road accidents result in some form of disability,» explained Constantinos Theodorou, associate professor of orthopedics and president of the Greek Society for Support of Road Accident Victims. «The cover provided by health insurance funds is inadequate, as are the amounts awarded by courts. It is nearly always the family that fights an uphill battle for the survival and rehabilitation of the person affected. «What is much worse is when the injured person is the main breadwinner of the family. They need various treatments including speech therapy, mobility therapy and psychological support. Often, poorer families cannot meet those expenses. I have known cases where people have sold houses and land to make ends meet,» he said. Such cases are one more reason why it is essential to keep up the campaign for road safety. Though there had been a fall in the number of accidents following the recent implementation of the new Highway Code, last month saw a sudden rise. But the traffic police mobilized all available forces over Easter in order to reduce the number of road accidents, which helped keep fatalities down by 24 percent compared to last year. Constaninos Koumantanos, the chief of the Attica Traffic Police, told Kathimerini that policing measures were not enough. «Fear is not an effective means. Drivers must be made aware,» he said. As for fines, he insisted that the traffic police don’t make money from fines. «All the money goes to the municipalities, not to the traffic police. Personally I’d be happy if my colleagues came to tell me that they hadn’t issued any fines but that there weren’t any accidents either.»