Enforcement of rules on drink-driving and mobile phone use at the wheel decreases in majority of European countries

  • March 15, 2022

Significant weaknesses in the enforcement of road safety rules are holding back progress on reducing road deaths in Europe, according to a new report from the European Transport Safety Council.

The report examines the state of enforcement of speed limits and seatbelt wearing as well as rules on drink-driving and use of mobile devices at the wheel between 2010 and 2019 across Europe.

Ellen Townsend, ETSC’s policy director, commented:

“Thousands of lives could be saved in the EU every year if drivers stuck to existing rules on drink-driving, speeding, seatbelt wearing and mobile phone use.  Good enforcement is absolutely critical to this.  Without regular, highly visible and well communicated efforts to enforce the law, Europe will not reach its target to halve road deaths and serious injuries by 2030.  National governments must act now, and the EU can play its part by making sure cross-border traffic offences are routinely followed up.”

The report shows that roadside checks for drink-driving fell in eight countries, and increased in five.  A further 13 countries do not even collect national data on the number of checks, which ETSC says makes it harder for those countries to track their own progress on a critical road safety issue.

A 2018 survey showed that just 23% of Europeans thought they were likely to be checked for drink-driving on a typical journey.   Research shows that enforcement is only effective when people have the perception that they risk being caught.

Inappropriate speed has a direct influence on the likelihood and severity of a collision, and yet it is still widespread. The authors found vast differences between countries on speed enforcement.  Sweden has 100 times more speed cameras per million inhabitants than Czechia.  In general, speed enforcement activity is increasing, with the numbers of tickets going up in 21 countries and decreasing in seven.

ETSC is calling for the EU to improve rules on cross-border follow-up of traffic offences as the data show that in some EU countries less than half of fines from foreign drivers are actually paid. ETSC says new rules should make it mandatory for countries to follow up on law-breaking, and Member States should do more to ensure that unpaid fines are followed-up.

An EU proposal on updated rules on cross-border enforcement is expected in the coming months.  ETSC would also like to see EU guidelines on enforcement and sanctions, as well as minimum EU standards for enforcement equipment.

The report found that seatbelt wearing rates differ substantially across EU countries.  Rear seatbelt wearing is of particular concern.  In Germany 99% of rear seat passengers wear a seatbelt, whereas in Italy only 11% do.  ETSC is calling for advanced occupant-detecting rear seatbelt reminder systems to be mandatory in all new cars.  Since 2019, rear seatbelt reminder systems have been required in new cars, but these low-tech systems only alert the driver when the belt is unbuckled during the trip.

Enforcement of rules on driving with a mobile phone also decreased in 14 countries and increased in only 11, a worrying trend as drivers are now distracted by an array of social media applications as well more traditional texting and phone calls.

The full report can be downloaded from https://etsc.eu/PinFlash42

Notes to editors:

  1. ETSC’s Road Safety Performance Index (PIN) programme receives financial support from the German Road Safety Council (DVR), Toyota Motor Europe, the Norwegian Public Roads Administration and CITA – the International Motor Vehicle Inspection Committee.
  2. ETSC is a Brussels-based independent non-profit making organisation dedicated to reducing the numbers of deaths and injuries in transport in Europe.