by Maria Spiliopoulou, Angelos Tsatsis
ATHENS, Aug. 31 (Xinhua) -- Greece has recorded a steady decline in the number of fatalities in road traffic accidents in recent years, but is still lagging among EU members and has a long way to cover to reach vision zero, Greek officials and experts told Xinhua in recent interviews here.
According to the latest Eurostat data released earlier this August, Greece had the highest level of deaths in motorcycle accidents in 2017 (20 per million inhabitants).
Overall traffic deaths in the country are higher than the EU28 average (64 per million inhabitants and 49 per million respectively in 2018).
"Road traffic accidents are a phenomenon our country suffers from for many years. However, I should note that in recent years there is a reduction in the number of road accidents. Last year we mourned 709 dead in Greek roads. There is a significant drop compared to the past. For example, in 1998 we mourned about 2,000 people in Greek streets due to traffic accidents," Ioanna Rotziokou, Hellenic Police spokesperson, said.
"Despite this reduction, we still have to cover a long way ahead until we manage to reach the absolute zero, because this should be our target: the absolute zero," she stressed.
According to the Hellenic Police statistics, in 1998 a total of 24,894 road accidents, 2,229 deaths, and 4,889 seriously injured and 28,224 slightly injured were recorded nationwide.
In 2018 the number had shrank to 10,633 accidents, 709 deaths, 701 serious injuries and 12,073 slight injuries.
Reckless driving behavior, excessive speed, driving under the influence of alcohol, lax use of safety belts and helmets, use of mobile phones while at the wheel, the quality of the road network are a few of the many factors contributing to Greece's poor road safety record, but improvement has been recorded in many areas, Rotziokou noted.
The spokeswoman attributed the progress also to the fact that the Greek Highway Code has also been amended many times since 1999 and stricter penalties are imposed for violations.
"Based on surveys conducted on the reduction of traffic accidents in recent years, the financial crisis has also contributed up to an extent to the decline, because a few of our fellow citizens were forced to stop using their cars very often," she said.
"On the other hand, based on our experience, I can tell you that we faced several cases when our fellow citizens would tell us that they skipped the necessary technical control of their cars or they had not paid the insurance, because they did not have the money," she added asked about the reflection of the debt crisis on the Greek roads.
In order to curb road accidents and achieve the vision zero of Scandinavian countries, where Sweden for several years has recorded zero deaths of minors under 12 in road accidents, Greece has to work harder, Rotziokou stressed.
"We believe that since it is indeed a phenomenon caused by many factors, there should be synergies to resolve it. The police are the last stage. The most important thing of all is education," she said.
In addition to the monitoring of roads by traffic police and the issuance of fines for violations which are linked to leading causes of accidents, the action plan for the further reduction of road accidents also includes more campaigns to raise public awareness on road safety and an educational program for elementary and secondary schools, she explained.
"Road safety concerns us all. We are all responsible. But, above all, is a matter of education and a matter of mutual respect, it is an issue of altruism, an issue of politeness towards fellow citizens. It is a matter of love. Every time, before we hold the steering wheel, we should be thinking about our loved ones at home so that we return safe and sound," Rotziokou stressed.
Tasos Markouizos, better known as "Iaveris" to Greeks, a veteran rally driver and passionate road safety campaigner, talked about the death toll of traffic accidents in Greece over the past 60 years.
Greece has lost 120,000 lives lost on the streets during this period, while 350,000 have been left disabled and 2 million suffered slighter injuries, he noted. Road accidents are the leading cause of death of young people aged 25-29, he stressed.
The financial losses for the country throughout these 6 decades reach up to 800 billion euros (880 billion U.S. dollars), he estimates.
Iaveris urges for more changes to legislature, stricter penalties, and more aggressive campaigns to educate motorists and pedestrians. He suggests more focus on the education of children about road safety to change Greeks' mentality in the streets.
"It is a matter of health. Maybe this is the most appropriate manner to approach people. They should see car accidents on the roads as an issue of health and death, not only as violations of the Highway Code. What is needed is constant bombardment, showing the results of a tragic behavior, the funeral, the despair, the disability," he told Xinhua.
"A different legal framework is needed. We are talking about deliberate felonies due to antisocial, unacceptable driving behavior," he stressed, pointing to many Greek drivers who step on the gas to cross the junction once the traffic light turns orange.
Each one of the citizens has a share of responsibility for deaths on roads and can contribute to change the situation, the expert said.
"The most important thing in my neighborhood is not only garbage collection and street lighting and green spaces, but the fact that 87 percent of road accidents happen within neighborhoods. Every morning, when one leaves his/her home, before closing the door, they should take a minute and think how many people will be waiting to give them a hug in the afternoon," he advised.
"They should change behavior; they should become, if you may, more considerate and polite in the streets, because audacity, rudeness, lack of respect lead to death," he stressed. (1 euro=1.1 U.S dollars)