From small traffic violations, to an eternity

  • 2012-04-12
  • By Egle Juozenaite

Ramunas Sideikis says not all drivers understand seatbelt safety.

KLAIPEDA - Within the European Union, Lithuania has been, for years, one of the leading countries in the number of road fatalities. Since 2008, all European Union countries have been in a major push to actively try and reduce the number of car accidents and fatalities on the roads. Efforts have been focused on development of three constituent parts of traffic safety: engineering units (intersections, traffic signs, traffic lights); control (police work, MOT centers, car insurance) and education (focusing on kindergartens, schools and universities). So, can we now say that the situation has improved?

The Ministry of Transport and Communication of Lithuania is working to upgrade road safety in the state. The national traffic safety development program for 2011–2017 has as its major aim the improvement of road safety education and the ambitions “to get onto the list of the top 10 safest European Union countries. This means that Lithuania would have no more than 60 deaths per million inhabitants.”

Currently Lithuania registers 93 deaths per million inhabitants. “There is no final data for 2011. According to the available primary data, this year Lithuania should overtake Greece and Poland, but will not pass Latvia or Estonia,” said Evaldas Tamariunas, public relations division consultant at the Lithuanian Road Administration under the Ministry of Transport and Communications in Lithuania.

Comparing 2011 with the previous year’s statistics on accident rates, it is clear that this year has been much better, but the improvement can’t be considered significant yet. “Improving accident figures show that road safety activity is focused and coherent, but it should be noted that the objectives do not stand up as good performance itself; you must always move forward and achieve the best,” stressed Tamariunas.

In two years’ time the number of road fatalities in the city of Klaipeda has stayed the same. In 2010 and 2011 in Klaipeda 26 people died in road accidents, but it should be mentioned that the categories for the deaths on the roads have changed. Last year a much larger number of pedestrians were killed on the roads and highways - 13 in total. The most gloomy month was December. Four people were killed during the month.

“It has been a long time since so many people have died in one month in Klaipeda. The reasons were various: people walking through pedestrian crossings at night are barely visible, they wore no reflective items, so it can be argued that such painful events have been provoked by the pedestrians themselves,” highlighted Ramunas Sideikis, head of the Road Police Office of Klaipeda District police headquarters.

According to the Lithuanian Road Administration under the Ministry of Transport and Communications for Lithuanian statistics, most accidents occur due to driver’s mistakes. In 2011 across the country there were 2,199 traffic accidents caused by reckless drivers, representing 66 percent of all traffic accidents. In 2011, 111 pedestrians, 91 drivers, 61 passengers, 26 cyclists and 9 motorcycle riders were killed on the roads. “Most of the traffic accidents occur due to the drivers’ fault, and most of those killed were pedestrians,” said Tamariunas.

A large number of traffic accidents occur at pedestrian crossings, so every year during spring and autumn audits at these crossings are carried out. If any new building or other, bigger centers that attract people arise, that new location is evaluated, visibility and distances are measured, and then new road signs are erected.

Sideikis, however, mentions one disadvantage to this process: usually in such cases there is only one specific spot that is analyzed in detail, though a wider area, or section of the road, remains unattended to and unchanged.
There is also a need to evaluate the flow of foot traffic, people’s directions of motion, as well as other paths used such as hiking trails and shortcuts. Unfortunately, sufficient attention is not drawn to this. It is important to illuminate the pedestrian crossings adequately, and it is also recommended to illuminate the traffic lights with special lamps in order to make each pedestrian crossing more clearly visible. One other step is to properly mark the pedestrian crossings by erecting special road signs, ones which have special reflection material and shine much brighter than the other information road signs.

Another problem in the fight for better safety is that many of the existing pedestrian crossings do not meet current standards. “We still cannot compare Lithuania with other European Union countries, such as Holland or Germany. These are leading countries in the European Union, where the number of road fatalities per 100,000 population is the lowest. There is well-developed infrastructure, so, therefore, the consequences of accidents are completely different,” says Sideikis.

n order to make drivers adjust their speed and drive more cautiously, the busiest streets are now equipped with fixed speed cameras. “The equipment for speed monitoring is functioning perfectly. Currently in Klaipeda there are three speed cameras,” stated Sideikis.

Increased penalties is one of the measures contributing to the reduction of road accidents. Tamariunas says that “Since March 1, 2011 some changes in the [legal] code have come into force. Administrative responsibility has been strengthened for traffic offenses. It should be noted that the responsibility has been strengthened for the most vulnerable group of road users –  pedestrians.”

To reduce and avoid accidents in the future, more attention needs to be paid to education, especially to the younger generation. The Klaipeda District Police Headquarters Road Police Office offers traffic safety training classes. “In 2011 the Road Police Office conducted 60 lessons about road safety to various schools of the Klaipeda region; in total 2,247 pupils of all ages participated in these classes,” said Mindaugas Dzermeika, chief of the Administrative Operations Section at the Road Police Office.

Intensive cooperation is carried out between police agencies and various educational institutions, such as schools and kindergardens. There are various drawing competitions arranged for schoolchildren, introducing young people into a culture of safe behavior on the roads. There are also annual campaigns, during which reflectors are given to children to wear while outside. “I would like to emphasize that during the various promotions, which have occured across Lithuania, nearly five million reflectors were distributed to people, and if everyone would wear them, then our pedestrians, walking on the sidewalks, would look like Christmas trees,” joked Sideikis.

There are also a few large scale traffic safety projects being carried out across the state. The Ministry of Transport and Communications implements educational traffic safety campaigns aimed directly at the individual. “It has the projects Take Care of Each Other on the Road (Saugokime vieni kitus kelyje), Traffic Safety in Communities (Saugus eismas bendruomenese), as well as demonstrating safety belt efficiency and effectiveness, and vehicle turnover simulation equipment with children’s safety equipment,” said Tamariunas.

Children are particularly vulnerable when it comes to road travel. “Each year more than 1,100 children under the age of 15 are killed on European roads, and 100,000 are injured,” says the European Commission Road Safety Web site.
When traveling in cars, children must have special car seats adapted for their age, weight and height.

“I, as a layman, not an official, start to shudder when I see children without seat belts, climbing around the car, from front to back and vice versa. I just do not understand why parents don’t say anything to their children, when they act like that. Probably the best way is to show people the devastating effects [of not wearing seatbelts] and maybe after that they will understand how tragic it is when parents lose a son, or a brother loses a sister, children - their parents. Just one careless, reckless step can lead to [a painful] eternity,” said Sideikis.

The requirement to use seatbelts has been extended. Now all categories of vehicles should be equipped with them, and passengers must use them. It is also required to use restraint systems specially adapted for children.
Under EU law, seatbelts must be used in all vehicles. “Children over 1.35 m can use an adult seatbelt. Those under 1.35 m must use equipment appropriate to their size and weight. It is now against the law to use a rear-facing child seat on the front passenger seat – unless the airbag has been deactivated,” notes the European Commission Road Safety Web site.

Usually police officers highlight such situations with a warning. “When people do not use seatbelts, we alert them by giving a verbal warning. I would like to add that not all road users understand the importance of the fine. Punishments warn people, help them to understand that their behavior is wrong and that they shouldn’t repeat the same violations in the future. This is an attempt to protect all road users,” stated Sideikis.

However, there are cases where a person is punished for the same offense several times. This makes one think about the culture of drivers. “I would advise following the example of other regions, such as Scandinavia, where the number of road fatalities is one of the lowest in the European Union. The situation in Lithuania now is appreciably worse, but it is slowly improving. Drivers communicate with each other in such situations as entering a roundabout; they uses informal gestures and signs,” points out Sideikis.

Road safety education now is very active in schools. Every year, schoolchildren participate in traffic contests and compete with each other between school classes in road safety events. “Actually, there is great attention paid to child safety. Safe behavior on the street is integrated into the educational school program; teachers give lessons on road safety through non-formal education classes. Fifth and sixth grade pupils learn safety basics,” said Julyte Baltrusaitiene, director of Klaipeda Verdene pro-gymnasium.

The Road Traffic Rules paragraph 4 says that “Road user behavior is based on mutual respect and caution,” highlighting the need for drivers to behave responsibly and strive not only for one’s own, but also for other people’s security. We should be careful when in a hurry, because sometimes a distraction, inattention or haste on the road means that we sometimes become either the cause, or victim of a road accident, and the consequences of this, as we know, are usually severe.