Car Accidents in Cyprus
According to the World Health Organization, more than 1.2 million people around the world die because of road accidents. This makes them a leading cause of preventable death globally, especially among young people. In the European Union alone, more than 26,000 people died on the roads in 2015, while Cyprus in particular topped the charts for the biggest increase in the number of fatal accidents that year. While the European Commission has adopted an ambitious Road Safety Programme that aims to drastically cut the number of road deaths by 2020, are those measures enough?
At first glance, the numbers do seem to speak for the effectiveness of the programme. Back in 2000, road accidents were responsible for approximately 57,100 fatalities in the EU. That number continued to gradually decrease every year, reaching its lowest point in 2014, with 25,970 deaths. Likewise, the number of injuries also went down, from more than 2 million in 2001 to 1,448,100 in 2015; an estimated 135,000 of these were serious injuries. However, according to the 10th Annual Road Safety PIN Report, 2015 was the second consecutive bad year for road safety and progress seems to have come to a standstill. 26,300 people lost their lives on EU roads during that year, showing a 1% increase from the year before. Out of the 32 different countries monitored by the PIN Programme, as many as 22 saw a rise in the number of fatalities between 2014 and 2015, while only nine countries registered a drop. The biggest reduction was registered in Norway with a decrease of 20%, followed by Estonia and Ireland with 14%.
In what is a saddening statistic, Cyprus ranks second in the EU concerning the number of young people killed in road accidents, while it finds itself in the 13th place in overall road fatalities. According to police statistics, between 2011 and 2015 there were 6,562 accidents in Cyprus, 259 of which were fatal. About 2,000 people were seriously injured, 1,890 were slightly injured, while 26% of accidents only involved vehicle damage. Yet while the numbers seemed to drop, with fatalities being at their lowest point in 2013 and 2014, there was a 26.7% increase of deaths in 2015 even if the number of injuries went down by 19%. Out of the 57 lives lost during the year, 24 were car occupants, 13 were motorcyclists, 16 were pedestrians and the other 3 were using a moped or bicycle. It is important to note here that 57% of the drivers and passengers who died on motorcycles were not wearing a helmet, and 64% of those who died in vehicles were not wearing their seatbelts. Things become even worse when you consider that the number of accidents previously mentioned (6,562 within five years) only relates to accidents investigated by the police; the real number, according to the head of the insurance companies association, is estimated at 180,000. This boils down to one accident every 15 minutes, four every hour, 96 a day for five consecutive years. For a small place like Cyprus, this is frightening.
Considering that the main causes of road accidents between 2011 and 2015 in Cyprus were drunk-driving (27%), reckless driving (23%), driving on the wrong side of the road (14%), speed (13%), and driving under the influence of drugs (8.5%), it would seem that the numbers could greatly go down if the right measures were applied to counteract dangerous driving behaviour. Yet the 10th Annual Road Safety PIN Report notes a lack of action on both an EU member state and European level. This lack of political will to enforce change in order to improve the stagnant situation has apparently contributed to a decline in levels of police enforcement, a failure to invest in safer infrastructure and limited action on tackling speed and drink driving in several countries. As a matter of fact, this is something that the Cyprus Minister of Justice Ionas Nicolaou recognises as well, noting that Cyprus is still acting under laws enacted 40 years ago on road accidents, laws which need a drastic overhaul.
However, things seem to be gradually changing in Cyprus. A recent study by the University of Cyprus law department points out that local police have recently taken the approach of targeted policing based on collision probability, which means more investment in patrols and speed-controls in residential areas, secondary roads and known blackspots. This approach may be hindered by the lack of speed cameras and staff shortages in the police, but the Justice Minister has pledged that in light of the rise in fatalities in 2015, there will be an increase in checks on drivers and a re-evaluation of both sentences and the communication strategy on safe driving. The goal, the Minister said, is not to increase the number of bookings, but to make the drivers realise that the police is constantly on alert and their behaviour is being monitored. This attitude towards policing is backed by the University of Cyprus study which reports that exemplary punishment needs to be combined with a perception that the chance of being caught is high, if it is to be effective. In fact, the study found that during the short time traffic cameras were in use back in 2007, accidents fell by 14%. Efforts are underway to reintroduce the cameras this year or early next year.
Additional suggestions and legislative proposals included in the UCy study will be used to form part of the justice ministry’s strategy for finding more effective ways to reduce accidents, since it has become clear that traffic offences are not being adequately addressed by existing measures. The study suggests, among other things, reducing the points ceiling from 12 to 6, and setting maximum and minimum speed limits at 120kph and 60kph respectively. In addition, anyone exceeding 161kph by 30% or more could be fined out of court but will be taken to court at a later date and have their licence taken away, receive another fine and/or an up to six months prison sentence. The penalty for causing a death by reckless driving could lead to an imprisonment of up to ten years, while abandoning the scene of an accident that results in death or injury will carry up to three years in prison and/or a fine not exceeding €5,000. The sentence for driving in a way that endangers human life could double from one to two years, and there could be the same sentence if a motorist is caught driving under the influence of drink, drugs or medication. Finally, using a phone while driving, which currently results in a €85 fine, could also result in the motorist receiving 2-4 penalty points.
If these measures are implemented, they could be a major step towards Cyprus’ aim to cut road deaths and serious injuries by 50% between 2010 and 2020, keeping in line with the European Commission’s goal. It has become evident that the current measures do not serve as serious deterrents and they therefore need to be significantly revised if the downward trend in fatalities is to continue.