Traffic Law Enforcement across the EU

  • May 5, 2006

An overview

This report is the result of ETSC´s “Traffic Law Enforcement Programme”. It monitors enforcement practices in the EU in order to stimulate best practice exchange and identify further needs. It focuses on police enforcement in the field of speeding, drink driving and seat belt use and examines the implementation of the European Commission’s Recommendation on traffic law enforcement (EC 2004). In this Recommendation EU countries were asked to apply in a national enforcement plan what is known to be best practice in the enforcement of speed, alcohol and seat belt legislation. Traffic law enforcement measures in these three areas, in combination with awareness raising activities, are the most important instruments to reach the EU target of halving annual road deaths by 2010.

The first part of the report provides an impression of the main emerging trends across the EU including recommendations for EU decision makers on how to further progress. The second part covers enforcement practices and progress in each of the EU’s 25 Member States including recommendations for improvement.

Speeding is the single most important cause of traffic death and injury across Europe. But available data show that legal limits are insufficiently enforced even in the best performing EU Member States such as the U.K and Sweden. The examples of Finland, the UK, Austria, France, the Netherlands and Belgium show that well-designed speed enforcement schemes help to bring down speeding on all parts of the network. Evaluations carried out in France and the UK have moreover shown that speed cameras can help to substantially reduce casualties from speeding and that these safety effects may already be felt at a point when the number of speeding offences is still increasing.

The second greatest cause of road deaths, often mixed with speeding, is drink driving. In the EU as a whole, around 2-3% of journeys are associated with an illegal Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC), resulting in 30-40% of driver deaths. The highest levels of drink driving checks are found in Finland, Estonia, Sweden, France, Slovenia, the Netherlands, Greece and Hungary. In all these countries, police have been empowered to stop and breath test drivers at random, i.e. without the driver revealing any suspicious behaviour.

One of the areas given lowest priority is the enforcement of seat belt wearing, despite the fact that seat belts have been proven to have an enormous life saving potential. The best way to enforce seat belt use is through intensive and highly visible specific seat belt actions. Few countries report to be undertaking such rigorous and frequent checks. These include Slovenia and the Netherlands but also the land of North Rhine Westphalia (Germany). Seat belt wearing is increasing in all EU countries, but not all countries dispose of basic compliance information that is needed to guide enforcement efforts. More effort must be put into raising seat belt wearing rates particularly in those countries where compliance is low or rates are unavailable.

The overview shows that many EU countries are improving their levels of enforcement of speed, alcohol and seat belt legislation. EU countries increasingly apply best practice methods as outlined in the EC Recommendation in the areas of speed and alcohol enforcement. More and more countries are introducing automated speed enforcement, random screening tests and evidential breath tests, but seat belt actions based on the recommended blitz approach are much less common.