The car
Is a world without accidents possible?

“One Christmas, when I was seven years old, my father told me that when he was little, neither mobile phones nor the Internet existed. Can you image such a thing?

“One Christmas, when I was seven years old, my father told me that when he was little, neither mobile phones nor the Internet existed. Can you image such a thing? I remember that my father worked then in something called “road safety” and that – he put a lot of emphasis on this – it was very necessary because every year more than 1,500 people died in Spain in traffic accidents and more than 10,000 people were seriously injured. Incredible, no? The most incredible thing is that some years there were more than 9,000 fatalities. Well yes, all of that was true. My father traveled a lot, because the same thing (sometimes on an even larger scale) happened in every other country in the world. Today, except for very unique cases, nothing of this sort happens”.

I like to think that my daughter Ines will speak like this to her children. Some day, God willing. In fact, I am convinced she will. Indeed, I haven’t the least doubt that the goal of zero serious injuries or deaths in traffic accidents, the goal the Fundación MAPFRE formally proposed in 2015, is absolutely possible and achievable in the medium term. And to reach this conclusion, we have drawn on some of our recent studies published in 2015, which provide data and specific quantifications. Allow me, then, to summarize for you some of the main findings.

The first of the reports that I’d like to mention is titled “The Contribution of Roads to Improving Road Safety in Spain”. In this study, conducted in collaboration with the Spanish Road Association, we have been able to demonstrate how multi-lane roads (motorways) have saved the lives of at least 18,370 people in Spain over the last ten years. Looked at another way, and in a projection of calculations, if all conventional Spanish roads (those with a single lane in each direction) had the same rate of safety as the type of safer roads (the aforementioned multi-lane routes), a total of 752 lives would be saved every year in our country. This figure is important because it accounts for about half of all people who lose their lives in Spain each year (1,688 in 2014) in traffic accidents. It is also extremely important because it is a simple and clear measure of the potential for improvement that can be obtained using currently available design and technology that is in use at the moment.

Specifically, the widespread installation on Spanish roads that currently have single lanes, of 2 + 1 roads – in other words, roads that have two lanes in one direction and one in contrast, a configuration that alternates every 5 or 10 km to successively allow overtaking – would in and of itself prevent up to 338 fatalities. Moreover, the study estimates that improving roadsides would reduce by 30 to 35% the number of accidents with injuries and about 15% of the fatalities. But also – and I believe this is the most surprising finding – another concrete and extremely simple and inexpensive measure, installing rough-surfaced longitudinal road markings and sound separations of road and shoulder, would reduce nothing more and nothing less than 52 % of casualties as a result of road accidents caused by vehicles leaving the road, one of the deadliest types of accidents.

The second study is titled “The Price of Safety” and analyzes the improvements in the safety equipment of vehicles in recent years. In addition to confirming that improvement in general terms (using the results of independent crash tests applied to vehicles sold in Spain), the study considered the cost of having to incorporate into a dozen of the most sold vehicles in Spain various safety features that offer proven efficacy in preventing accidents and injuries: the frontal collision warning system with automatic braking, active speed controls, a warning system of involuntary lane change, and side curtain airbags. The price of such security systems (hence the name of the study) is significant but, on the other hand, is comparable or even lower than the combination of more expensive exterior paint and additional larger tires; or similar to replacing the basic engine with another more powerful engine; or the cost of many interior comfort features that do little or nothing to help improve road safety. Hence the Fundación MAPFRE’s proposal, that when a person is considering which vehicle to choose, they give priority to the equipment that can save their life.

The study notes that, in certain cases, to obtain the aforementioned safety equipment in some vehicles, the buyer must assume a price increase of up to 74% on the basic model. The unfortunate thing, especially when lives are at stake, is that most of the increase is due to systems that are not related to safety but which must be bought to get the available injury prevention features. Therefore, the first of the recommendations with which the report concludes is that automakers should offer these proven safety systems as standard features, or at least as an option on all models (including the least expensive models) and in all versions and engines, even in the most basic or least powerful. The study also insists that injury prevention systems, when they are optional, should be provided independently and without forming part of packages that include features other than safety equipment; a formula, as has been said, that often radically increases the final price of the vehicle.

The study also proposes that car dealers exhibit or mark as “kilometer 0” vehicles with a greater number of safety systems: we invite readers to do the test for the themselves and to approach one of these dealerships and ask, in respect to the vehicles on display or in storage (in stock, using a technical term), if they have all the safety features offered by the manufacturer… We also encourage car rental companies, leasing companies and those responsible for the bidding of vehicle fleets (public or private), among others, to progressively include more and more safety requirements in their vehicles. All ways to increase vehicle safety count.

But to encourage vehicle safety and make it more accessible, the Fundación MAPFRE also invites public administrations to pitch in: they must take an active part in encouraging these systems. Although such systems are expensive to develop and manufacture and their costs must be recovered, their unit cost is very significantly reduced the greater the number of vehicles that incorporate them. In other words, it’s a question of the famous economy of scale. In this regard, public authorities have a responsibility not only to continuously improve the regulations of homologation of vehicles, but also to insist on disseminating information about new advanced safety systems of vehicles as a way to promote demand by motorists and encourage in a clear way their incorporation through reductions in sales tax, VAT, city transit tax and parking fees, among other measures. Just as they do when the goal is to reduce consumption and emissions.

Does anyone still think that vehicle safety isn’t important? Let me give them some data. Today, technology exists to prevent the vast majority of traffic accidents and injuries. Volvo, in fact, has already proposed that by 2020 nobody traveling in their new generation vehicles should be severely injured or killed. In another vein, the accident statistics in Spain are irrefutable: when an accident occurs, the likelihood that an occupant of a vehicle is found dead doubles when the car is more than 12-15 years old, and when compared to a new vehicle. It turns out, however, that in recent years, the average age of vehicles involved in accidents with injuries is exactly 11-12 years. What conclusion can be drawn from the two previous figures? Well, if we were able to replace those vehicles that are 12-15 years old that currently have accidents on our roads with new vehicles we would be able to halve the number of deaths. While it is clear that this won’t happen from one day to the next, it still represents a measure of the potential for injury prevention offered today by current vehicle technology.

However, improvements in roads and vehicles are not, by any means, the only possible measures. In September 2015, at the same time we officially presented our Target Zero campaign, we also published another study on “European Strategic Road Safety Plans” in which we analyzed the road safety strategies of more than a dozen European countries, as well as the latest guidelines and concrete proposals made by the European Commission. In addition, we offered two dozen priority measures which, in our opinion, still have great potential for improving road safety, either because they haven’t been introduced yet or because their introduction hasn’t been strong enough.

In the realm of the human factor, regarding the safest users, this latest study proposed to continue insisting on driver education, paying more attention from now on to the example offered to children by parents, grandparents, teachers … Likewise to strengthen actions in the fight against one of the fastest growing dangers to safe driving in recent years: drugs. And, of course, not to mention alcohol, which still remains the most common drug in our society today. We also believe we must persevere in the ongoing training of drivers and other road users (including cyclists) and to do so throughout adulthood. Training should also include first aid knowledge: the whole of society should be trained in how to react to a medical emergency. Furthermore in respect to the human factor, we believe, as is the case in other European countries, that we must continue with and deepen the scientific evaluation of the benefits of Graduated Driving License (GDL) systems.

We should pay special attention to the increasing presence of elderly users on the roads: offering them lanes and vehicles adapted to their capacities, programs to refresh knowledge, improvements in the recognition of their skills; and, in general, reform or reconsider all aspects of the road system as necessary, including regulations. All this based on more and better research on the relationship between aging and road safety. We know that serious accidents involving the elderly have increased in recent years, but we don’t know whether this is due to the deterioration of their skills or to a lack of adaptation of the road system to the new demands of the oldest users.

The Fundación MAPFRE proposes the concept of the “Driver 4.0” in which we all move on from mere compliance (still imperfect, clearly) to more supportive and cooperative driving, especially with regard to vulnerable road users: pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists. One of the most innovative and inspiring initiatives in this direction, by the way, is Gonvarri’s Emotional Driving program: congratulations for the initiative to all employees of the group.

Pythagoras became famous for his theorem, which stated, “the square of the length of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the lengths of the other two sides.” But he also said something that, in my opinion, is even more important: “Educate children and it won’t be necessary to punish men.” This is why the Fundación MAPFRE dedicates so much effort to children’s education in respect to road safety and injury prevention. According to our “1st Barometer of Road Education in Spain”, one in three schools still lacks a driver education program, and only one in five teachers has received specific training in this area. This despite the fact that road safety education in schools is compulsory ever since Article 7 of the Highway Code of 1934 (no, not a mistake: more than eighty years ago) established that “all teachers in all schools and colleges, both public and private, are required to teach their students the general rules of transit and the convenience of their perfect observance, warning them of the great dangers they face when playing on roads, of hastily leaving schools, etc.”.

However, the most striking thing about this barometer, in my humble opinion, is that quite a few parents acknowledge that they are a poor example to their children when it comes to traffic … Even though parents are precisely the main agents for the education of their children, along with grandparents and other relatives! Let’s be clear: if safe and healthy habits are not taught in the family, it is highly likely that accidents will be merciless with our children in the future. The most troubling thing is that, as the study reveals, the rules that parents state they most frequently violate (driving too fast, lack of seat belt use, distractions and aggressive driving…) are precisely the factors behind the greatest number of traffic deaths and injuries. If you allow me to make a plea, think about this the next time you cross a street in front of a child without regard to the traffic light or pedestrian crossing…

Finally, I would like to insist that it is possible to imagine a different society: better, sustainable, without serious injuries or people hurt in traffic. Being convinced of this, and we strongly believe in this, is half the journey. From here, the road ahead is easier. We believe this is a fundamental part of “what really matters”. Although, in reality, what really matters is you, your family, your friends, your co-workers…

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