Curbing road deaths

The comparatively low number of road casualties over the Christmas weekend this year was a boost to Greece’s traffic police, which saw its efforts at more systematic monitoring bear fruit. For their part, drivers seemed to be responding positively to the stricter measures, as only a few were caught driving under the influence of alcohol. The emergency measures will be kept in force until January 9 in the hope of averting the heavy casualties suffered in previous years. Traffic police officials and independent observers welcomed the good news but remained quite reserved. In contrast to last year, the holidays fall on weekends and people therefore do not have enough days off to flee the cities en masse. Good weather also helped curb the number of road accidents. Notwithstanding these factors, the declining figure was treated as a positive sign. Moreover, the combination of systematic controls and information campaigns targeting drivers inspires hope that the number of fatal road accidents will drop further. Comparing the number of accident deaths to war casualties is a cliche, but it nevertheless corresponds to a grim reality. Greece’s high death toll from road accidents is unacceptable by the standards of any developed country, and any government decision to increase funds for countermeasures is justified. Without a doubt, this year the traffic police were better organized. More police officers were out on the roads and their monitoring of dangerous areas in the road network was tighter. Notably, officers chose to be an overt presence rather than play the usual hide-and-seek game with the aim of punishing drivers for speed-limit violations, usually at points that are not treacherous. It remains to be seen whether these stricter controls will continue after the holidays and whether drivers will respond to the new measures by showing a more responsible attitude. A smart, long-term campaign is needed to act as a reminder of the hazards lurking in small violations. In addition, authorities must update traffic signs and regulations, and put stronger emphasis on prevention. Should such a combination be properly enforced, it will also help bolster drivers’s self-control; and there is no better recipe for reducing road deaths.