Poland eyeing solutions to stop high rates of speeding, drunk driving

Nov. 1, 2013 at 11:41 AM
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WARSAW, Poland, Nov. 1 (UPI) -- Poland has one of the highest rates of driving-related deaths in Europe, a ranking officials say they hope to halve by 2020.

To do so, the government is drawing lessons about dealing with speeders and drunk drivers from countries across the continent, The Christian Science Monitor reported Thursday.

Friday marked All Saints' Day, one of Poland's major religious and national holidays. It's also when many speeders and drunk drivers are on the road. During last year's celebrations, police records indicate 36 people were killed and nearly 2,000 drunk drivers were arrested.

In all of 2012, 3,500 people died on Polish roads. The country's road mortality rate is 94 deaths per million citizens. The European average is 55.

Polish legislators have proposed suspending for three months the driver's license of anyone caught speeding more than 30 mph over the limit. Fines could be raised to $640. However, higher fines don't always stop wealthier speeders, and traffic experts note Finland and Switzerland have dealt with that problem by tuning fines to a driver's income.

A system known as "intelligent speed adaptation" also could be instituted, said Ilona Butler from the Motor Transport Institute in Warsaw. The system would send a signal to a vehicle that would prevent driving more than the speed limit.

Another mechanical solution would be installing Breathalyzer-type devices inside an automobile. The so-called "alcolock" would prevent the car from starting if the driver's alcohol level measured above Poland's limit of 0.02 percent. Sweden found in the early phases of its alcolock program, not a single participant was caught drunk driving again.

The roads themselves are a factor. In the last 20 years, the number of vehicles on Polish roads has jumped 300 percent, but the roads are in bad condition compared to those elsewhere in western Europe.

Wlodzimierz Zientarski, president of the driving-safety society Kierowca.pl., said traffic laws in his country are "full of paradoxes" and the multitude of signs confuse of drivers. This problem is shared with Britain, which is trying a concept called "shared space."

A pilot program recently began in Poynton, a town of about 14,000 in northwest England. Traffic signs and lights have been taken down and, in some cases, road markings erased. Ben Hamilton-Baillie, who co-created the idea 10 years ago, says putting drivers and pedestrians into the same space forces them to become more cooperative.

Other traffic analysts such as Andrzej Markowski from The Society of Traffic Psychologists in Warsaw says the whole psychology of driving must change.

"In London, when a driver sees a pedestrian who wants to walk on the crosswalk, he stops," Markowski said. "In Warsaw, the strongest wins, usually the driver. In Moscow, a policeman asks a pedestrian who has been hit by a car why the hell he wanted to walk there."

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