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Traffic Safety

Road traffic fatalities are a considerable public health problem in every country. World Health Organization (WHO) estimates the number of people killed in road traffic accidents each year to be at almost 1.2 million and the number injured as high as 50 million. The burden of road deaths is, however, unequally distributed among regions: 90% of RTA deaths occur in low-income and middle-income countries, where 81% of world’s population live and own about 20% of world’s vehicles. The regional differences in RTA mortality are vast even in Europe. For Eur-A countries (27 countries with low adult and child mortality), death rate in RTA’s was 8.03 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2006 and for Eur-B+C countries (26 countries with high adult and child mortality) the RTA mortality rate was 19.12. Moreover, WHO predicts RTA deaths to increase from 2002 until 2020 by 83% in low and middle-income countries. These figures clearly demonstrate that regional differences are huge in RTA deaths and that this regional imbalance will increase drastically in near future if action is not taken.


In the Traffic Research Center of Finland, we see road traffic accidents as a global problem manifested in local communities. While solutions to traffic safety problems are often global, the application of these solutions has to be adapted to local conditions. Traffic Research Center of Finland is specialized in international projects in traffic safety and transportation.


Our approach in traffic safety is based on three different models. First of the models describes the relationships between different levels of traffic safety culture and climate. This model shows that many levels from the individual to society influences traffic safety and that these levels interact. In successful traffic safety work, this multilevel nature of traffic safety has to be taken into account.


The second model deals with three interactive determinants of driver behavior: the driver, environment and the vehicle. In this model, it is important to notice that these there components interact. Therefore, drivers’ behavioral response to changes either in the vehicle or in the environment can lead to unwanted behavioral responses. For example, better braking system in the car or wider roads can lead to speeding.


The third model shows how driving skills and driving style are related to errors and size of the safety margin and, finally, to crashes. Errors and safety margin are treated as outcomes of behavior and skills. The “driving skill” pathway (blue arrows) describes how driving experience as exposure to variety of traffic situations and as practice is related to driving skills, which in turn, determine the probability of a driver error. The “driving style” pathway (red arrows) describes how driving experience, personality factors, attitudes and beliefs, and life style are related to driving style, which in turn influences the sizes of safety margins: more risky the driving style is narrower margins the driver accepts. Finally, frequent driving errors and narrow safety margins lead together to heightened crash risk. Since driving is a self-paced task and drivers can largely determine the task demands, a risky driver actually makes the driving task too difficult for himself/herself so that the demands exceed his/her capabilities. Effective countermeasures should therefore include both the driving skill and style components and these components should be seen as related to each other.