This year’s Road Safety Days of ROADPOL take place from 16 to 22 September together with the European Commission's European Mobility Week: a campaign by the European (traffic) police forces to draw attention to road safety. The campaign appeals to road users to behave safely. Although important, I don't think we can leave it all to the road user. One of the campaign's spearheads is 'speed', which includes lowering the speed limit from 50 to 30 km/h. In addition, one of last year's spearheads – drugs in traffic – remains unchanged.
From 50 to 30 in three steps
30 is the new 50. We hear calls from more and more countries to lower the speed limit in built-up areas from 50 km/h to 30. But driving speeds won't change just by changing the limit or by swapping road signs. Moreover, it won't magically become safer. We know that speed enforcement only really works on roads where the road and environment are adapted to the safe speed on that road. So it all starts with the road layout.
In the Netherlands, we want the limit reduction to take place in three steps. The first step is the assessment framework. This helps road authorities to identify the roads that qualify for a lower limit. CROW, the Dutch technology platform for transport, infrastructure and public space has drawn up such an assessment framework on behalf of the ministry, in collaboration with road safety professionals, including SWOV.
The second step concerns the question of how to make those roads safe and credible. We are currently working hard on that. In the Netherlands, lowering the speed limit will mainly apply to roads that have a different function in the road network than the current 30 km/h roads. There aren’t any design requirements for the new type of 30 km/h roads yet.
And, as a last step, you will obviously want to know whether all investments have had the intended effect: do people indeed drive 30 km/h, has it become safer and more liveable? To determine that, a good evaluation is essential/ required. To help road authorities with this, SWOV has developed a step-by-step plan, assuring the evaluations are as standardized as possible and mutually comparable. We think this three-step method makes sense and I invite our European neighbours to check out our approach.
Drugs in traffic: working with 13-year-old figures
Driving under the influence of drugs is a problem. Especially combinations of drugs, or the use of alcohol together with drugs are known toincrease the risk enormously. Unfortunately, we have lost sight of the current situation. According to the latest figures, around 2% of motorists in Europe are under the influence of drugs. However, those 'latest figures' are more than 13 years old! In the years 2007-2009 the first ánd last major European study on alcohol, drugs and medicines in traffic took place: the DRUID study.
It is unlikely that the drug level in Europe is still at 2%. In fact, recent SWOV research points in the direction of 6% for the Netherlands. However, there’s no way of knowing how accurate that estimate is, because we lack a good method to measure and monitor the prevalence. Developing and implementing such a method is quite a costly endeavour and requires a lot of (scarce) police capacity. So, isn’t that reason enough to not to attempt to monitor the prevalence? I would actually advocate the opposite: precisely when we know where the greatest road safety risks are, we can set priorities and use the scarce police capacity efficiently. I think it's about time for DRUID II.
Managing director at SWOV