For a little more than a decade, Stefan Grieger has been dealing with accidents in road traffic and the question: How can you push the numbers? What the managing director of the German Road Safety Council (DVR) notices again and again: The proportion of those who die or are seriously injured in accidents on country roads has actually always remained the same over the years. “The value always fluctuates around the 60 percent mark,” says Grieger. More than every second death in an accident in Germany is killed on a federal, state or district road outside of a built-up area, and the situation is hardly any better for the seriously injured. “If you want to change that,” says Grieger, whoever wants to significantly reduce the number of road deaths and serious injuries, “you have to focus on the country roads”. Only recently, at the end of its legislative period, the Berlin coalition reaffirmed its goal of reducing the number of accident victims.
The problem from the DVR’s point of view, in which ministries, companies, automobile and traffic clubs and many other actors from road safety work have come together, is above all: the speed is relatively high on the country roads, but at the same time the dangers are often there larger than on the comparatively well-developed motorways – because, among other things, tight bends and hilltops often make overtaking an incalculable risk. Or there are obstacles at the roadside that can be fatal in the event of a collision.
Many overestimate themselves
In addition, many motorists apparently overestimate themselves immensely. This is shown by a representative online survey by Forsa on behalf of the DVR with more than 2000 participants who took part in the Süddeutsche Zeitung is present. According to this, two thirds of those surveyed believe they can react quickly enough to unexpected oncoming traffic. And even 90 percent of those surveyed believe that they can correctly estimate the necessary distance for a safe overtaking maneuver.
But the numbers from the accident statistics show something else: According to DVR, a total of 487 people were killed in an accident with an oncoming vehicle in 2020. “That’s 30.6 percent of all road deaths on country roads,” says Grieger. Frequent drivers, in particular, would be lulled into a sometimes deceptive sense of security: “They think they know the routes to be traveled every day well,” he says. Often there is a kind of “getting used to” effect, “people think they can correctly estimate an overtaking route”. But the opposite is usually the case. If you change your perspective and look at a different number, it quickly becomes clear what Grieger means: In the Forsa study, 53 percent of those surveyed stated that they often feel threatened by the overtaking behavior of others.
In the coming week, the Federal Ministry of Transport and the DVR will therefore also present a joint security campaign. On posters and on the Internet, more consideration and serenity on country roads will then be advertised, and the campaigners also want to raise awareness of the particular dangers that exist on roads outside of built-up areas. Because in addition to the crashes that result from unsuccessful overtaking attempts, it is the so-called agreement accidents that claim a particularly large number of victims. In other words, accidents in which the driver loses control of the vehicle for whatever reason, leaves the road – and crashes into a tree, for example.
died on country roads in Germany in 2020 – according to the German Road Safety Council (DVR) that was well over half of all those killed in road traffic (almost 59 percent). Almost 23,000 people were seriously injured. “If you consider that ‘only’ around a quarter of all traffic accidents with personal injury occur on rural roads (namely 24.8 percent), then it becomes clear that accidents on rural roads are much more serious than on motorways or in urban areas,” judges the DVR.
The DVR has therefore long called for the side areas of (rural) roads to be kept as free of obstacles as possible. In the case of newly laid roads, for example, it makes sense to leave a strip at least 7.5 meters wide free – and not to plant any trees there. On existing roads, guardrails and safety barriers would have to be erected in dangerous places, if necessary also equipped with “underrun protection” to provide additional protection for motorcyclists.
On routes with a lot of trees, for example in avenues with trees that are less than 7.5 meters away from the edge of the road and have no crash barriers, the authorities should, from the DVR point of view, order a maximum speed of 70 kilometers per hour. More speed restrictions are also necessary to avoid overtaking accidents, says Grieger: For example, on roads that are less than six meters wide. There, the authorities could order Tempo 80, as well as more overtaking bans at critical points. However, the DVR rejects a general reduction in the maximum speed on country roads to 80 km / h, as required by the Verkehrsclub Deutschland (VCD), among others: on country roads with a wider cross-section, great visibility, unobstructed side areas or even separate paths For pedestrians and cyclists, a limit of 80 km / h is “not absolutely necessary,” says Grieger.
The streets in view
However, in order to impose all these speed and overtaking restrictions or to have crash barriers built, experts would have to take a closer look at the streets more often, the DVR believes. At so-called traffic shows, representatives of the responsible road traffic authorities, the police, road construction and traffic associations regularly drive the streets and decide whether, for example, speed 70 signs should be set up in an avenue. The situation is similar with the so-called accident commissions, where experts take a closer look at places where accidents occur frequently.
In addition to these methods, which have been tried and tested for decades, experts have recently developed further ideas: In an “inventory audit”, apparent defects in the road condition, such as larger potholes or damage to the shoulder on the roadside, could be identified – and subsequently remedied as quickly as possible. And with the “safety audit”, specially trained auditors are supposed to ensure in the planning phase that safety aspects are taken into account from the outset on a new road or road to be converted – from the point of view of all those involved in traffic, including pedestrians and cyclists.
Corresponding guidelines were recently issued, including the “Guidelines for Road Safety Auditing” (RSAS for short); Courses have also been developed so that engineers can acquire appropriate additional qualifications – and these can be certified by the Federal Highway Research Institute (Bast). The only problem is: “There are too few of them,” says Grieger. Engineers are desperately wanted in traffic and road construction authorities, there is a lack of people to “put the new approaches, elaborately developed in theory,” on the road in practice, “says Grieger. The DVR therefore calls for more “investment for specialist staff in the local authorities”. And representatives of the police unions are repeatedly calling for more staff in order to be able to better control speed restrictions or overtaking bans.
Local transport would also have to be expanded
In addition, the legislature must grant the local authorities “more freedom in the implementation of traffic safety measures,” demands the DVR. For example, authorities that want to reduce the maximum speed allowed on a street for reasons of traffic safety are still obliged to submit a detailed and sometimes time-consuming justification. “It would make sense to make it easier for the municipalities to order traffic safety measures in a legally secure manner,” says Grieger.
And one more point is important to him: if the federal states and municipalities were to expand local public transport in rural areas, many people would no longer be forced to drive their own car. And fewer vehicles on the road could ultimately mean fewer dead and seriously injured people.