VILNIUS - In a particularly tragic two days on Lithuania's roads, a total of nine traffic-related deaths and 48 injuries were reported throughout the country over the Sept. 22 - 23 weekend. Two more deaths were reported in the Panevezis region on Sept. 24.
One of the worst incidents occurred on Sept. 23 when a man driving an Audi 80 along the Via Baltica in Kaunas was burned to death in a fiery explosion after his car collided with a chemical truck.
Lietuvos Rytas reported that Raimundas Pupkus, the 55-year-old driver of the truck, quickly opened his door and managed to run away before the blaze blocked any escape route.
The collision is being investigated by police. The name of the car's driver had not been released by press time.
The truck was carrying 24 tons of animal feed products from the Lifosa chemical plant to the Czech Republic. Lifosa spokeswoman Irma Ardaviciene said that after the collision at least 5 to 6 tons of animal feed were recovered and sent back to the plant.
Most of the accidents occurred in the Kaunas, Vilnius and Siauliai Counties. According to reports from the Lithuanian Police Traffic Supervision Service, the majority of the drivers were in their mid-20s and police suspect a few were driving under the influence of alcohol. Some of the reports detailed tree strikes and vehicles that lost control on the roads and overturned. On Sept. 23, a driver killed a 57-year-old female bicyclist in the Trakai district.
The high number of deaths and injuries over the weekend, and the nation's generally dismal road safety record, have raised alarm among traffic police and specialists.
Lithuanian Police Traffic Deputy head Gintaras Aliksandravicius told The Baltic Times that Lithuanians will have to engage in some serious introspection before the road situation improves.
"In my opinion, we need to change the behavior of our road users. We still have a Soviet mentality on the roads," Aliksandravicius said. "We need to change our mentality, opinion and behavior. Drivers and society still think police are the only ones responsible for traffic safety," he added.
Society and politicians have long recognized the deadly road situation as a national tragedy for the country. Last year, Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas said the deadly road situation poses a threat for Lithuania's national security.
Vidmantas Pumputis, Traffic Safety Deputy Director at the Ministry of Transport, told The Baltic Times that the number of traffic accidents in the country has increased from last year, mainly due to a higher number of drivers without licenses, more speeding violations, the failure to wear seat belts and a lack of pedestrian safety.
During the first eight months of this year, the number of road fatalities increased 4.2 percent from 2006, and the number of drivers who don't have proper licenses and documents increased 52 percent. Over the same eight-month period, a total of 124 pedestrians were killed.
Lithuania has the lowest ranking for traffic safety in the European Union.
The European Commission reported in April 2007 that the number of road deaths for every one million residents in Lithuania is four times higher than in Sweden, the Netherlands or Malta.
Parliament has given the green light to tightening penalties for traffic violators. If Parliament approves the government's amendment to the Code of Administrative Offenses, authorities could be allowed to confiscate vehicles and drivers' licenses from those who disobey road rules.