The Citizen Forum on Road Safety was held in Helsinki at the Annantalo on 10 December 2009. The event was organised together with Suomen Tiepalvelumiehet STM ry, Suomen Liikenneliitto SuLi ry, and Helsingin liikenneturvallisuusyhdistys ry. Partner organisations helped in sending information, registration and by taking notes for the forum.
About twenty enthusiastic citizens attended the approximately two-hour debate. Participants came to the event with ideas and suggestions for improvement to Finnish and European road safety.
What has happened to attitudes?
Everyone agreed that road safety is largely a matter of attitude. It is influenced by culture and education. Our general behaviour is reflected in traffic behaviour. Reijo Muuri, a former police officer, stressed that the majority of road deaths are caused by the so-called “human factor”. If everyone would follow traffic rules, the number of injuries / deaths would decrease radically. However, Reijo’s speech also contained a positive message: road safety is improving thanks to improvements in infrastructure, even though traffic volume is increasing. Improvement has occurred and is still occurring.
In traffic behaviour, however, no major changes for the better have been observed. Annukka Luoderanta wondered about the lack of respect of traffic rules. Pertti Liuhta criticised the individualistic perspective, which constitutes a hazard in road traffic. Traffic should be “flexible” by giving space to others, not by taking it for themselves. Reijo Muuri reported on a survey according to which most people regard themselves as much better drivers than other people. It was asked why, however, about 8,000 people are still being injured in traffic in Finland every year.
There were many different views on children’s, young people’s and adults’ traffic attitudes. Jarkko Väänänen works with young people and thinks that many youngsters today have developed a “nothing matters” mentality. Based on Jarkko’s experience young people who spend their time in controlled hobbies show good example in traffic, while young people who lack activities in general should be considered as an important target group for traffic education. It was considered important that road safety education for young people should include participatory guidance, experiments, training, and the persistent restating of reasons for safety. Participants found many cases of poor examples by parents, so the discussion was focussed back on the importance of parents’ behaviour as a model for children. There is surely something wrong with the adult educator’s role if a child has to remind his parents to use a reflector or seat belt, and not vice versa.
Participants thought that young people could be efficiently reached through the behaviour of their idols and maybe through online material. They were also asked whether video games offer a bad example which could reflect in their behaviour. Mikko Perkko works in the field of motor sports and defended some of the young people and also other rally drivers who considered that they were responsible drivers. In reference to his own group, he claimed that nobody wants to commit stupidities, which reinforced the idea of participatory learning and the importance of setting an example. Liisa Tierisalo praised young people’s traffic behaviour. Young people take into account the problems of wheelchair users, in many cases even more so than adults.
Small steps towards safer traffic
Road safety depends often on functionality of small details, such as visible traffic signs or signals, or suitable lighting. Lighting should not be compromised because of, for example, architectural reasons. Clear signs are particularly important for hard-of-hearing, weak-sighted or blind road users, said Markku Toivonen. Clarity was also wanted, for example, for pedestrian routes and bicycle paths, which often tend to go unnoticed because of the different ways of signposting them. Sand is important in Finnish latitudes. It is a cheap way to ensure the safety of road users, observed Markku.
Once again, in a discussion on safety, pedestrians’ attitudes were pointed out. There was concern about the visibility of pedestrians and participants wanted to ban cyclists from sidewalks. It was considered very important that cyclists should use lights and reflectors.
Vehicle safety and the future
There was a heated debate in the discussion on vehicle safety, for example, regarding headlights. Marko Ilva explained their recent development and the related legislation. Participants wondered why in some European countries it is still permitted to drive without lights during the daytime. Thus the lights are used not only for seeing but also for being seen. Fog lights and main beam lights were criticised because the eye does not have time to adjust to the differences in brightness. The solutions proposed in the discussion were more effective eyesight examinations as well as headlight checks. When discussing eyesight and visibility, dissemination of reflectors in southern Europe was proposed, as they are also already exported to Africa, according to media coverage!
Modern cars go fast. “Speed limiters are commonplace in heavy traffic, why not for others”, asked Anna-Kaisa Lehtinen. Speed limiters were proposed for passenger cars or especially for young drivers and mopeds. However, attitude is the alpha and omega and the car must also have a brain, it was said. Increased safety equipment involves the risk that the driver nullifies their effect by raising the driving speed.
Examples from around the world
Road traffic behaviour varies widely in different countries and different cultures. Finnish conditions were discussed in the light of, for example, exemplary Japanese and Dutch cycling cultures. In Japan, pedestrians as well as motorists wait patiently for traffic lights to change, since their displays count down the remaining time for the change of traffic signals, said Veijo Rahikainen. He also urged to learn from Sweden and Germany where car drivers respect the crosswalks due to heavy fines, but not to identify with Chinese road traffic culture. In Norway, good traffic discipline is believed to be achieved through more severe punishment.
Heavy traffic problems
Caravan user Juha Hämäläinen was concerned about the coexistence of heavy-duty and lighter vehicles, and about traffic safety. Suicidal crash drivers put the safety of heavy traffic vehicles particularly in danger. It was considered that harmony between heavy and light traffic could be improved through overpasses, proper acceleration lanes and central crash barriers.
Should driving licenses be granted for a limited time and be based on continuing training?
How does vision deteriorate over the years?
Is it a medical examination at the age of 45 enough if you get your driving license at the age of 18?
Does additional driver training reach adults and older drivers?
Many questions still remained unanswered as eight o’clock rolled around and the Citizen Forum on Road Safety drew to a close. The European Road Safety Charter Project Team, who had initiated the Forum, thanked all the participants for their activity and declared the first Forum to be held in Finland a success. Similar events will be held in other European countries. In addition to this report sent to participants and published on our website (www.erscharter.eu), the team has gathered the concrete suggestions for improvement as well as all the topics to emerge during the forum into a separate report to be submitted to the European Commission.
Thank you to all participants and we wish you a safe Christmas!
European Road Safety Charter
Contact person Maria Saarela