Source AP ©

Car death rate rising in Europe

An International Automobile Federation survey says that after years of decline, road deaths are suddenly rising in Europe threatening the goal of halving annual traffic fatalities in the European Union by 2010.

Europe is experiencing "an unexpected rise in road deaths," says the survey of the EU office of the Paris-based federation known by its French acronym of FIA.

"Europe has made huge strides in the reduction of road fatalities, but this latest snapshot survey released 14 September, raises concerns over how to sustain the good work," said the survey that uses data from FIA automobile clubs across Europe. It had no immediate explanation for the sudden hike in fatalities.

Since 2001, France has cut its road deaths by more than 40 percent, Luxembourg by 30 percent and Portugal, Sweden, Belgium and the Netherlands by around 25 percent.

But the first half of 2007 points to increases - including some very large ones - across Europe compared to the same 2006 period.

The survey said road deaths are up in Sweden by 7 percent, but in Denmark and Finland by as much as 40 percent.

It also reported these increases: Poland and the Czech Republic (both 14 percent), Austria and Britain (both 13 percent), Croatia and Cyprus (both 10 percent), Slovenia (12 percent).

Germany - so far "one of the best performers in Europe" - saw an 8 percent rise in road deaths in the first half of 2007, said the survey. Only a few countries, including Spain and Italy reported reductions.

The EU has made good progress to date for its goal of halving roadway fatalities in the union from about 50,000 in 2000 to 25,000 by 2010.

FIA speculated that one possible reason for the higher death rate could be the mild 2006-2007 winter that drew more people onto the road than usual, especially in the Nordic countries.

In an interview, the FIA spokesman Olivier Lenz said the FIA Austrian affiliate wanted to know if a spike in Austrian road fatalities this year was a one-off.

"We asked FIA affiliates across Europe about that and when we saw the figures, we were amazed," said Olivier. "All over Europe we saw increases."

Lenz said the survey outcome may still change for the better. He said in France fatalities climbed by 2 percent in the first half of 2007 but an August dip cut that to 0.2 percent.

While the FIA figures do not indicate that the decline will continue in future, there is concern that the progress made in previous years may be slowing.

The FIA, which represents 34 million motorists in the EU, including 4 million motorcyclists, used the data to renew its plea for the EU to make new technologies - such as electronic stability control - mandatory in all new cars, do more to encourage the use of seat belts and to improve road designs.