Last year, 52 lives were lost in traffic in Estonia, down 22 percent or by 15 people compared to 2018. Annual traffic deaths have been coming down in line with 2016-2025 targets. Speeding and drunk driving are still the main causes of fatal crashes.
The national traffic safety program (LOP) 2016-2025 aims to lower the number of annual traffic deaths from 82 (the average for 2012-2014) to 40 a year by 2023-2025.
The LOP target for 2017-2019 was a maximum of 55 annual deaths. This level has been all but reached as the average for the three previous years came to 55.6 annual deaths. The target for 2018-2020 is a maximum of 50 annual deaths. To hit that target, Estonia should suffer no more than 31 traffic-related deaths this year.
The Road Administration believes the 2025 goal of having no more than 40 annual deaths can still be reached.
"If traffic safety activities continue in planned volume, it is likely that reaching the planned level for 2023-2025 is still possible," Alo Kirsimäe from the agency's strategic planning department told ERR.
While the three-year average is falling – albeit slowly – for traffic deaths, the number of traffic accidents is remaining consistent. There were 1,392 accidents with casualties last year, down from 1,474 in 2018. The number of accidents were people were injured came to 1,375 in 2015.
That said, the traffic safety program does not include a figure for the maximum number of accidents with casualties by 2025, only listing the goals of reducing severe injury and traffic deaths, in other words, saving lives.
For this purpose, LOP prescribes boosting traffic safety and measures for preventing serious accidents. The latter include constructing new share-use paths, driver training, more effective traffic supervision, better roads and monitoring speeding.
Police want better speed cameras
Kirsimäe said that no measure can be considered more important than others but sees a particular reason behind severe traffic accidents.
"The better the level of traffic safety, the less likely one is to find success through individual activities. It is vital to exercise all planned activities. Getting speeds under control is the most important factor in having fewer severe accidents," he said.
The main reasons for serious accidents and the number of traffic deaths falling slowly have remained the same over the years.
"The main risk factors for fatal accidents are still intoxication and speed. In 2019, 19 people who participated in such traffic accident were intoxicated, down from 25 in 2018. Speed was one of the risk factors in nine fatal accidents in 2019 and 26 accidents in 2018," Kirsimäe said.
There are several ways of getting speeds under control, with speed traps and punishments for speeders as one such measure. At the same time, the police do not consider it the most effective way.
"You will not change people through fines alone. You need to find what works best for them, whether it's an interview, training, fine or even incarceration. The more different options we have, the more effective we can be," Sirle Loigo, senior law and order officer for the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA), told ERR.
While the number of speeding violations caught by speed cameras was up last year, this can largely be attributed to use of new mobile speed traps. Head of the PPA's traffic service Toomas Kaarepere told ERR that the police issued 139,279 fines based on traffic light and speed camera data last year.
"This is 26,159 warning fines more than in 2018. While the total number of fines has grown, this is primarily the result of new mobile speed cameras," Kaarepere said. The mobile speed traps the police first utilized in July caught 22,203 speeders in six months.
"May was also when we switched on our traffic light cameras on the Kristiine intersection in Tallinn that caught over 6,300 violations in 2019, 1,500 of which were traffic light violations," Kaarepere added.
The LOP implementation plan for 2020-2023 prescribes the police procuring new speed cameras with video capture capacity. The PPA remains skeptical, however, as it also needs to maintain existing cameras and has not been allocated enough resources for this purpose.
"The PPA budget lacks resources for maintenance of speed measuring devices, including those sporting video capture. We have regularly applied for additional funds in the state budget strategy (RES) process. / …/ Until resources necessary for maintaining and servicing speed measuring devices are not included in the PPA main budget, the PPA cannot adopt the obligation of acquiring new ones in the volume prescribed by LOP," a letter sent to the Ministry of Internal Affairs reads.
Sirle Loigo said the situation is not as bad as that – she said that all devices at the police's disposal for measuring road speeds are in working order. "The PPA's goal is to procure more modern devices that can also capture video. New devices would make it easier to prove speeding, cutting the time spent on challenges. Proceedings would also take less time," she explained.
While the PPA wants more modern speed meters, it remains unclear how many cameras will be replaced this year. The police are not planning to procure additional cameras.
Loigo said the PPA has the necessary resources for repairs and calibration of speed traps. "This means that we are not expecting traffic supervision volumes to fall, even if no new cameras are procured," Loigo said.
Four deaths due to non-driving-related activities
Failure to use safety equipment also remains a major problem. Nineteen people or 37 percent of those who died in collisions last year were not using safety equipment. They numbered 27 or 40 percent of all traffic deaths the year before. "We can add to that non-driving-related activities that caused four deaths in 2019," Kirsimäe noted.
Using a mobile phone while driving is by far the most common distraction practiced by 70 percent of drivers in 2014. The goal in LOP is to lower the figure to 50 percent.
Last year, 60 percent of traffic accidents that resulted in casualties happened in streets, 15 on highways, 10 percent on secondary roads and 7 percent on basic roads.
Editor: Marcus Turovski