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Communication from the Commission concerning Commission recommendation of 21 October 2003 on enforcement in the field of road safety (Text with EEA relevance)

OJ C 93, 17.4.2004, p. 5–8 (ES, DA, DE, EL, EN, FR, IT, NL, PT, FI, SV)
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Communication from the Commission concerning Commission recommendation of 21 October 2003 on enforcement in the field of road safety (Text with EEA relevance)

Official Journal C 093 , 17/04/2004 P. 0005 - 0008

Communication from the Commission concerning Commission recommendation of 21 October 2003 on enforcement in the field of road safety

(2004/C 93/04)

(Text with EEA relevance)


1. Every year, more than 40000 people are killed on the roads of the European Union. In the White Paper on European transport policy for 2010: time to decide(1), the Commission has set as its over-all objective in terms of road safety that this number of fatalities needs to be halved by 2010.

2. The Commission has recently adopted a European Road Safety Action Programme(2), containing operational measures aimed at achieving this objective. This action programme identifies three areas of actions: the behaviour of road users, vehicle safety and improvement of road infrastructure; the measures in these three areas are supplementary to one another.

3. Whereas measures on enforcement aimed at improving road users behaviour as proposed in this Recommendation are most appropriate to achieve a rapid reduction of road deaths and injuries, measures that contribute to a safer infrastructure (namely roads and tunnels) and measures in the field of vehicle technology can bring about improvements in road safety in the longer term. Relevant in the latter area is the Commission's Communication on Information and Communications Technologies for Safe and Intelligent Vehicles(3).

4. Where road users behaviour is concerned, it appears from available data(4) that the main causes of fatal accidents are speeding, driving under the influence of alcohol (hereafter referred to as drink-driving) and non-use of a seat belt.

5. Speeding drivers cause about one third of the fatal and serious accidents in the European Union, and limiting excessive speed would reduce the number of deaths each year by 11000 and the number of people injured by 180000(5).

6. Drunk drivers cause about 10000 deaths annually in the EU(6).

7. Although seat belt wearing is mandatory through an EU Directive(7), in 1996(8) 10000 car occupants died in an accident because they were not wearing their seat belt.

8. Even if these numbers of deaths (11000, 10000 and 10000) cannot just be added up (often, more than one of these causes play a role in one single fatal accident), cutting back these three main causes of deaths on the roads would still achieve more than half the 50 % reduction in fatalities that has been set as the general objective of road safety policy.


9. Whereas the rules on wearing a seat belt are harmonised, efforts to harmonise the rules on drink-driving(9) have not been successful. In the field of commercial road transport, EU legislation exists on the application and use of speed limitation devices, limiting the maximum speed of certain categories of buses and trucks(10), but efforts to harmonise rules on maximum speed for buses and trucks on all types of public roads have failed(11).

10. However, when looking at the performance of the different Member States in terms of road safety and comparing this with the different national rules, harmonisation of rules does not appear to be the panacea for reducing death rates. The three main causes of fatal accidents, speeding, drink-driving and non use of seat belts, all involve infringements of existing rules. Countries that succeed better in reducing the number of deaths apparently do more to enforce the relevant rules, which results in better prevention of the infringements concerned, and consequently in fewer fatal accidents(12). This can be illustrated by the following examples.

11. National rules are different with respect to speeding and drink-driving. With respect to the latter (maximum % of blood alcohol level), the biggest difference in rules exists between Sweden (0,02 %) and the UK (0,08 %). But looking at the performance of these two Member States in number of deaths per million inhabitants over the year 2000 (60 for the UK and 65 for Sweden), it appears that they were nevertheless the two best-performing countries, whereas the corresponding figures for Greece and Portugal, where the maximum is 0,05 %, were 196 and 187 respectively.

12. Looking at the maximum speed, the differences in rules do not correspond to the difference in performance either: e.g., on secondary roads, Luxembourg, with a relatively low speed limit of 90 km/h, had 155 deaths per million inhabitants, whereas Germany, with a speed limit of 100 km/h, had 91 deaths.

13. Finally, with respect to seat belt use, where the rule in all Member States is the same, namely that seat belt use is mandatory under EU law, this appears by no means to be sufficient for avoiding deaths caused by the non-use of seat belts (see 7 above) and moreover it is known that the application rate is much higher in some Member States than in others.

14. The big differences in performance in the field of road safety, illustrated by the fact that the risk to be killed on the road in some Member States is more than three times higher than in other Member States, constitutes an impediment to the free circulation of goods and to the free movement of persons and services in the European Union. The enforcement measures recommended here are capable of drastically decreasing these differences.

15. Because of the expected maximal reduction of road fatalities to be gained from better enforcement in the field of the three traffic violations mentioned above, this Recommendation deals with these and not with other issues, such as use of mobile phones, helmet wearing, tail-gating and other forms of unsafe behaviour. While rules on these other subjects should continue to be enforced, particular emphasis should nevertheless be put on the three main causes of road fatalities. The cost-benefit analysis carried out on the basis of proposals similar to this Recommendation assesses that they result in a total annual reduction of 14071 fatalities and 679258 injuries in the EU, and in a net benefit of 37,15 billion Euro or 0,44 % of GNP(13). It has to be kept in mind, however, that these numbers result from the assumption that there is no overlap between the savings to be achieved in the three fields concerned. In reality, however, there will be a certain overlap between these fields, because drivers in individual crashes may exhibit two or all three of the behaviours that the measures are aimed at preventing, but it is not possible to know the extent of such an overlap and the resulting reduction in the number(14).

16. With respect to driving under the influence of drugs or medicines (hereafter referred to as drugs-driving), it is known that this is increasingly problematic in terms of road safety. However, with respect to this subject proposals cannot yet be as concrete and targeted at improved enforcement as for the three fields that are at the centre of this Recommendation, because of the many uncertainties that exist with respect to drugs and driving, such as problems of definition, a lack of limit values and of effective detection devices. The Recommendation therefore contains, in the standard form set out in the annex, a number of questions which should provide the Commission with information on the legal and factual situation on drugs-driving in the Member States. Depending on the results of this information gathering, more concrete measures may be proposed later.


17. Harmonisation of enforcement already exists in the field of commercial road transport, even if the current rules need to be strengthened. Council Directive 88/599/EEC(15) on standard checking procedures for the implementation of Regulation (EEC) No 3820/85 on the harmonization of certain social legislation relating to road transport and Regulation (EEC) No 3821/85 on recording equipment in road transport, Council Directive 95/50/EC(16) on uniform procedures for checks of the transport of dangerous goods by road and Directive 2000/30/EC(17) of the European Parliament and of the Council on the technical roadside inspection of the roadworthiness of commercial vehicles circulating in the Community, deal with different aspects of enforcement of commercial road transport. Directive 88/599/EEC in particular, the oldest of the three enforcement instruments, appears not to be sufficiently effective in practice. With a view to improving this situation, the Commission has, at the same time as this Recommendation, also submitted to Parliament and Council a proposal for a directive to make the rules on checks and enforcement in the field of commercial transport more effective.

18. This proposal with respect to commercial road transport and the current Recommendation for enforcement measures in the field of general road safety together are meant to form a coherent package dealing with enforcement and aiming at considerably reducing the death rate on European roads (the so-called Enforcement Package). The measures contained in the current Recommendation apply to both the private and the commercial transport sector. Though there may be differences in the extent to which the three issues - speeding, drink-driving and non use of seat belts - are relevant for the private car sector on the one hand and the commercial vehicle sector on the other, the best results will no doubt be achieved by encompassing all vehicles. Whilst speeding is committed by both private cars and commercial vehicles - the latter especially on secondary and urban roads where the speed limit is lower than the maximum speed that can be reached by vehicles with a speed limitation device - drink-driving is a bigger problem in the private car sector than in the commercial transport sector, with the opposite being true for the non-use of seat belts. Moreover, the effects of speeding and drink-driving tend to be more serious when committed by commercial vehicles because of their bigger mass and the resulting impact in the event of an accident.

19. The future enlargement of the European Union means an additional challenge in terms of road safety. In general, the situation in the accession countries is worse than in the current EU. The number of fatalities does not seem very high, but this is deceptive, since it does not take into account the number of cars and the level of the traffic, which are considerably lower than in the EU. Thus, it will be important that the measures proposed in the Enforcement Package will also apply in the new EU Member States.

20. The measures proposed in this Recommendation are based on the results of different research projects, studies and reports(18). A recent comparative research of the development of road safety in the three best performing EU countries, namely Sweden, the UK and the Netherlands (the "SUN"-countries), dealing with drink-driving and seatbelts, among other things, has come to the following finding: "The EU target of 50 % reduction of road fatalities in 2010 compared to 2000, means that the fatality rates have to be halved to 6,8 (per billion vehicle kilometres) or to 5,5 (per 100000 inhabitants), which is just below the level of the SUN-countries in 2000. Thus, it seems that an EU-wide application of the road safety measures taken in the SUN-countries might almost achieve the EU-target for 2010." The following table contains relevant data of the SUN-countries, the EU average and some other countries(19):

Table 10.1 Fatality rates for SUN- and EU-countries, USA, Australia and Japan

(source OECD-IRTAD database and estimates for the EU from ETSC, 2002)


21. The differences in road safety performance between EU countries may partially be explained by differences in geography, climate, demography, infrastructure, culture and temperament. However, such differences do not prevent the application of best practice in the three areas concerned in all EU Member States. The results of an impact assessment study carried out in this context show that the relevant best practices can effectively be applied in all Member States in such a way that the benefits clearly surpass the costs. The benefit-cost ratio of applying existing best enforcement practice to the whole of the EU is, for speeding between 5 and 6.8:1, for drink-driving between 3.8 and 8:1 and for seat belt use between 10 and 13:1. The differences in ratios reflect among other things whether the up-front costs of introducing the new measures and the lag between incurring the costs and realising the benefits are taken into account or not(20).

22. Measures are therefore proposed in this Recommendation which seek to apply best practice in each of the fields concerned throughout the European Union; these best practice measures are either distilled from one or more Member States or based on results of scientific research. To obtain the necessary information, best practices in the three fields concerned have been scrutinised, not only in the SUN-countries but also in other countries that may have reached good results in any of these fields, for instance Finland, which has an even better record with respect to drink-driving, and where one in three drivers are tested every year(21). In order to get an overall picture of the enforcement practices being applied in all Member States in the three fields that are the subject of this Recommendation, the Commission has carried out a study to collect relevant factual information about rules, sanctions and enforcement practice in the Member States. The information is derived from the answers given by the national authorities concerned to an extensive questionnaire(22).

23. The proposed measures are meant as minimum requirements: Member States can choose to prescribe measures which go yet further. As far as possible improvements in the SUN-countries are concerned, measures are described in the SUNflower report which would result in estimated gains in terms of saving percentages of fatalities between 2000 and 2010:

- For speed enforcement: Sweden 17 %, UK 10 %, NL 10 %

- For enforcement of belt and child restraint use: Sweden 2 %, UK 4 %, NL 8 %

- For enforcement of drink-driving: Sweden 3 %, UK 4 %, NL 5 %(23).

24. Thus, substantial savings can be obtained even in the best-performing countries.

Some of the main general findings on European traffic enforcement from the ESCAPE project are:

- There is wide-spread support for enforcement among the public

- Enforcement based on deterrence is cost effective

- Automated methods are effective; current solutions are outdated; the adoption of automated methods is slow in most European countries and authorities are reluctant to use them

- Enforcement needs commitment and dedication; innovation is needed above all in persuading decision makers of the need for effective implementation of enforcement strategies

- Needs surveys reveal that more technological help is needed and more simplified methods must be found for catching and dealing with treating violators

- There are major differences in efficiency of enforcement in Europe(24).

25. All these findings are relevant, in one way or another, for the proposals put forward in this Recommendation.

26. Future research activities could also support these enforcement activities, especially within the 6th Framework Programme for Research and Development (e.g. "Sustainable Surface Transport" - Enforcement of traffic rules and drivers' aptitude to drive).

(1) COM(2001) 370 of 12.9.2001.

(2) COM(2003) 311 of 2.6.2003.

(3) COM(2003) 542 final of 15.9.03.

(4) E.g. research projects GADGET (2000) and ESCAPE (2003); report "Police enforcement strategies to reduce traffic casualties in Europe" (May 1999), European Transport Safety Council (hereafter ETSC); SUNflower: a comparative research of the development of road safety in Sweden, United Kingdom and the Netherlands (2002).

(5) ETSC report "Reducing traffic injuries resulting from excess and inappropriate speed", Jan.1995, saying that an average speed reduction of 5 km/h should result in a reduction of over 11000 fatal casualties annually in the EU (based on IRTAD, 1994).

(6) Commission Recommendation of 17.1.2001 (OJ C 48/2), paragraph 1.2.2.

(7) Council Directive 91/671/EEC on the approximation of the laws of the Member States relating to compulsory use of safety belts in vehicles of less than 3,5 tonnes (OJ L 373, p. 26).

(8) ETSC report on police enforcement, May 1999.

(9) COM(88) 707 final.

(10) Council Directive 92/6/EEC on the installation and use of speed limitation devices for certain categories of motor vehicles in the Community (OJ L 244 of 30.9.93, p. 34), amended by Directive 2002/85/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council (OJ L 327 of 4.12.02, p. 8).

(11) COM (88) 706 final.

(12) This is confirmed by a report from the European Transport Safety Council (ETSC) of September 1999: "Police enforcement strategies to reduce road casualties in Europe: case study contributions". Based on the analysis of a large body of information, it concludes that effective police enforcement could lead to a 50 % reduction on road injury crashes. Speeding, drink/driving and non-use of seat belts are the main focus of this report.

(13) "Cost-benefit analysis of road safety improvements" by ICF Consulting with Imperial College Centre for Transport Studies, London UK, 12 June 2003 (hereafter ICF study): namely a reduction in fatalities by 5840 for speeding, 4343 for seat belts (based on an assumption of 100 % use) and 3888 for drink driving, p. v.

(14) With a view to this, and under some very general assumptions, the study works out as worst case scenario that GNP savings would only be 0,40 % (p. vi).

(15) OJ L 325 of 29.11.88, p. 55.

(16) OJ L 249 of 17.10.95, p. 35.

(17) OJ L 203 of 10.8.2000, p. 1.

(18) E.g. GADGET research project, namely Chapter 4,5 on Legal measures and enforcement (final report 2000); ESCAPE research project (Enhanced Safety Coming from Appropriate Police Enforcement) (2003), VERA research project (Video Enforcement for Road Authorities), concluded January 2000; SUNflower project (2002), different ETSC studies and reports.

(19) SUNflower report, p. 117.

(20) ICF study, pp. 22/23, 28/29 and 34/35 respectively.

(21) ETSC review on police enforcement strategies to reduce traffic casualties in Europe, May 1999, p. 9.

(22) Study carried out by Clifford Chance (May 2003).

(23) SUNflower report, pp. 137/138.

(24) ESCAPE, final report, pp. 19/20.