Cyprus ranks 18th in the EU in road deaths, according to the 14th annual Road Safety Performance Report published on Wednesday by the European Transport Safety Council (ETSC).
In 2019 there was an increase of 6.1 per cent in road deaths in Cyprus. There were 52 road deaths were recorded, three more than in 2018.
With last year’s increase, Cyprus has fallen one notch, from 17th to 18th place in the EU in deaths per capita.
A 3 per cent decrease was recorded overall in the EU in 2019.
Out of 32 countries monitored by the programme, 16 registered a decrease in road deaths in 2019 compared to 2018.
Luxembourg leads the ranking with a 39 per cent reduction in the number of road deaths between 2018 and 2019.15 It is followed by Sweden with a 32 per cent decrease, Estonia with 22 per cent and Switzerland with 20 per cent.
The number of road deaths increased in 12 countries, while progress stagnated in four. The largest increases were registered in Israel with 17 per cent, Denmark with 14 per cent, Slovenia with 12 per cent, Slovakia with 7 per cent and Lithuania and Cyprus with 6 per cent.
However, the report said annual numbers of deaths in Luxembourg and Malta are particularly small and are, therefore, subject to substantial annual fluctuation. Annual numbers of deaths in Cyprus and Estonia are also relatively small and, therefore, may be subject to considerable annual fluctuation.
This may explain why, though deaths in Cyprus increased, the number of seriously injured in road accidents in the country decreased.
The number of people recorded as seriously injured, based on national definitions, decreased in 18 out of 23 EU member states that collect data. However, in the EU23 collectively the progress in reducing serious road traffic injures remains insignificant since 2010.
Serious injuries recorded in Germany and the Netherlands increased and this has had a significant effect on the EU average as recorded serious injuries in these countries represent 48 per cent of all recorded serious injury data in the EU25.
The number of serious injuries increased by 45 per cent in Malta, by 13 per cent in the Netherlands, 11 per cent the UK and 9 per cent in Germany since 2010. At the other end of the ranking is Greece – it achieved the biggest decrease in the number of recorded serious injuries since 2010 with a 63 per cent reduction, followed by Cyprus with 42 per cent and Belgium with 35 per cent.
“It is now considered impossible to achieve the goal of reducing road deaths by 50 per cent from 2010 to 2020, as a reduction of 34.5 per cent is required this year, compared to 2019,” the report concluded.
“A reduction in road deaths is expected this year, of course, due to the restrictive measures taken to deal with the pandemic of Covid-19, but it is considered unlikely to be so great that it will achieve the goal. But even if that happens, it cannot be considered an achievement.”
The government’s “zero-tolerance” policy on reckless driving has led to widespread confusion over the new measures, particularly in regards to driving under the influence of drugs.
A 33-year-old man who was caught speeding and tested positive for drug use had his licence revoked on Tuesday. Lab results later showed he tested positive for cocaine use.
But wider questions have been asked about accuracy and equal treatment under the new policy.
Many drivers are unclear as to exactly which road violations qualify for a person to have their licence revoked.
To make matters even more confusing, there are two separate categories of losing a licence.
The first is a temporary suspension while their case is examined and the second is an outright revocation of the licence after their case has been studied.
The offender has 14 days to file a complaint.
A common question from the public has been whether testing positive for any drug whatsoever, and any amount will lead to them losing their licence.
“Yes, driving under the influence of drugs and testing positive will lead to at least a suspension of the licence until detailed lab results arrive,” Police Spokesman Christos Andreou replied when asked to clarify on this issue.
The grey area is that a person may have smoked cannabis the night before and still test positive for a narcotest in the morning, hours after consuming the drug.
In this sense, a person who smoked a joint of cannabis and a person who had a heavy night of cocaine use would both be put into the same category – testing positive for drug use.
Asked on this issue, Andreou said that “an initial test cannot tell when a person used the drugs or what drugs exactly, only that they are positive in the test and are under the influence – whether or not they did it the night before.”
He clarified that more detailed lab results which specify the type of drug used may impact the severity of the case against them.
The police have the right to temporarily suspend a person’s licence while they consider a full revocation.
“The least that will happen is a temporary suspension of their driving licence,” Andreou said. “If they are under the influence and are caught speeding or any other violations, then of course the case against is much more serious.”
Some have expressed frustration at an apparent unfairness in the process. A driver may lose their licence for light marijuana use, while a driver three times over the alcohol limit will be fined and may only receive a warning.
Drink driving remains common in Cyprus – in part – due to fairly lax laws, relative cultural acceptance and poor public transportation.
In the UK drivers are subject to harsh penalties for drink driving violations, such as a driving ban for at least one year (3 years if convicted twice in 10 years).
Drivers found to be driving under the influence of drugs, are found to be way over the alcohol limit or exceed by far the speed limit will have their licence taken away immediately, Transport Minister Yiannis Karousos said on Friday.
He was speaking after a meeting of the road safety council, which he presided over in the presence of Justice Minister Giorgos Savvides.
The transport minister said the measure would be implemented as of Friday. Police said they would discuss the practical implementation of this proposal on Monday.
A police source told the Cyprus Mail that for alcotests, instructions will be given for licences to be revoked immediately in cases where the reading is 120μg and over, while those found with over 70μg when breathalysed will be subject to this measure if they are caught for the same offence again. As regards speeding, the source said whether a licence will be revoked will be assessed for each case.
Karousos, citing the “very worrying data” presented during the meeting on driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs and speeding, said that the council has decided to make use of the powers of the road transport department.
“When it is confirmed they are driving dangerously, their licences will be suspended immediately until their cases are investigated,” Karousos said.
He added that the road transport department has the power to suspend drivers’ licences.
The minister gave as an example the case of the professional driver caught driving with his feet last November.
“His license was cancelled and he was asked to take exams again to be able to obtain a professional driver’s licence,” Karousos said.
The 43-year-old man was called in for questioning by the police last November after posting a video on Facebook of himself driving his truck using only his feet, on the Nicosia-Limassol motorway. He faces two charges relating to engaging in a senseless, dangerous and reckless act and driving without insurance. He is due in court next week.
Karousos said the road transport department, after being informed by the police, will immediately revoke the licence of those found driving recklessly through speeding or driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
He explained that if a driver’s narcotest is found positive then his licence will be immediately revoked until his case is referred to a medical council which would look into whether he or she is a regular drugs user or not.
“If someone is found to speed excessively, they will be deemed as dangerous and the road transport department has the power to revoke their licence and it will do so,” the minister said, adding that they will exhibit “zero tolerance”.
Justice Minister Savvides said that this year started tragically since by the end of January five people had died in road accidents, most of them young persons.
He said that seven bills and a regulation on harsher penalties for traffic offences are currently being discussed at the House transport committee and expressed hope they would be tabled to the plenary to vote within February.
The police on Thursday vowed to crack down on driving violations, from the minor to the more serious, in a bid to stem the tide of road deaths.
At a powwow in Nicosia chaired by police chief Kypros Michaelides, traffic police officials from across the island decided a zero-tolerance policy on traffic infractions, particularly those identified as the leading causes of serious accidents – speeding, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, not wearing a seatbelt or a helmet for motorcycles, and speaking on mobile phones while behind the wheel.
Some of the measures include: more frequent checks on more vulnerable categories, such as motorcyclists, young individuals and senior citizens; extra checks and constant policing mainly on the secondary road network; alcohol and drug tests on motorists throughout the day; and intensive policing of accident-prone spots.
Other than enforcement, the police will continue its drive to raise awareness in schools, army camps, as well as in presentations to organisations.
The police will additionally be drafting proposals to make it tougher on people to get a motorcycle licence and on senior citizens upon reaching the age where they have to renew their driving licence.
Police were spurred into action after 2019 saw the highest road death toll in two years. Last year, 52 people were killed in traffic-related incidents.
It is hoped that the anticipated installation of traffic cameras, as well as coming tougher penalties, will help curb the loss of life.
Also on Thursday, traffic police unveiled the latest additions to their fleet – 14 ‘smart’ patrol cars equipped with automatic number-plate recognition and GPS systems.
The police force will soon be acquiring another 10 ‘smart’ patrol cars of the station-wagon variety, to be deployed mostly on the secondary road network.
Eleven people were booked for driving under the influence of drugs over the holiday period.
In just four days there were 854 bookings for drunk driving, speeding, using a mobile phone and not wearing a seat belt. Among the offences, 11 were drug-related.
Head of traffic police Yiannis Georgiou called the number “worrying” and noted how dangerous it was to drive while intoxicated in any form.
“When you are under the influence of drugs you are a certain road danger,” he said.
“In line with these circumstances the force will decide on more drastic measures to reduce road deaths,” the traffic police chief added on Friday.
This year recorded the highest number of road deaths in two years with a toll of 51.
A bill to increase the fines related to traffic offences is expected to go to the plenum in January and be implemented by February.
Also, a total of 110 traffic cameras will be installed on the roads next year.
The new bill foresees penalty rises for hit and runs, running a red light, parking on pavements and taking parking spots reserved for disabled people in addition to speeding and drink driving.
Police will also introduce vehicle seizures, lower alcohol levels for drivers who had their licence suspended after completing 12 penalty points and enable courts to issue driving bans pending an investigation.
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