Country roads are the most dangerous in Europe. So says PIN Flash Report 46 "Reducing road deaths on rural roads", published by the European Transport Safety Council (ETSC), an independent not-for-profit organisation based in Brussels that is committed to reducing the number of deaths and injuries on Europe's roads.

In the European Union, half of all road deaths (10,637 deaths in 2022) occur on roads other than motorways. The report also explains who the main victims and causes of road accidents are, hence the ETSC's recommendations to EU Member States to make roads safer.

Where do most accidents occur?

According to the report, which covers the period 2012-2022, extra-urban roads are more dangerous, as they often lack central and lateral barriers and are used by a wide variety of vehicles in terms of weight and speed: cars, lorries and even cyclists and pedestrians.

Over the last decade, the number of fatalities on non-urban roads in the EU has fallen by 25%, from 14,162 in 2012 to 10,644 in 2022. This is a far cry from the EU's Vision Zero target of a 50% reduction in road fatalities by 2030 compared to 2019, and the EU's aspiration of zero road fatalities by 2050.

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PIN Flash Report 46 'Reducing road deaths on rural roads

Among the PIN countries, Belgium and Estonia achieved the highest average annual reduction (6%), followed by Greece and Norway with a 5% reduction for the periods 2012-2021 and 2012-2022. In three countries, the number of deaths on country roads has increased on average each year over the last ten years. The number of fatalities rose by an average of 8% a year in Serbia and by 1% in Israel and the Netherlands.

In Italy too, the greatest number of deaths (48.5% of the total number of road deaths in 2022) are concentrated on this type of road, which has a higher mortality rate (4.3 deaths per 100 accidents), compared with other road areas (3.5 motorways; 1.1 urban roads).

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Variation in the number of deaths on country roads, urban roads and motorways in the EU

The graph below shows the reduction in the number of deaths on urban roads and motorways between 2012 and 2022.

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Average annual change in the number of deaths on rural roads 2012-2022

The main causes of accidents

A comparison of the European countries analysed in the study shows that speed remains a major risk factor. In many countries, a large number of drivers drive faster than the posted limit on country roads, despite the availability and reliability of automated enforcement technologies such as speed cameras and average speed measurement devices.

The biggest reductions in average speed on extra-urban roads in Europe were recorded in France and Austria, where cars and vans slowed by 0.7% per year. In Serbia, a fall of 0.5% per year was recorded over the period 2014-2022 on roads where the speed limit is 80 km/h.

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Difference between the average annual change in the number of deaths on urban and non-urban roads

There is also a very sad fact to consider. In Finnish collision statistics, unlike in other EU countries, suicides are included. In-depth investigations into accidents between 2018 and 2022 concluded that around 19% of fatal motor vehicle collisions on suburban roads were suicides, as were 9% of fatal collisions involving pedestrians and cyclists.

The European Council's recommendations

In view of these figures, the ETSC has four recommendations for making roads safer

  • The installation of side and central barriers
  • removal of roadside obstacles
  • construction of separate lanes for cyclists
  • construction of pavements for pedestrians

"Suburban roads can be made safer through interventions that are not necessarily costly", comments Jenny Carson, co-author of the report.

Meanwhile, France, Spain and the Belgian region of Flanders reduced the speed limit on all extra-urban roads during the period under review. Sweden has invested heavily in "2+1" roads, which have a central barrier and a safety barrier.

In Scotland, experiments have been carried out with special signs for motorcyclists to guide them through sharp bends, with remarkable results. In Poland, in the Western Pomerania region, 800 km of high-quality cycle paths have been built in five years. We hope to see even better figures for the next ten years (2023-2033).