Roads in Central and South-Eastern Europe are five times deadlier than Scandinavian ones

The number of people killed in road accidents in the EU decreased by 33% in 2010-21. Stark differences between countries remain, with Romania, Bulgaria, and Latvia presenting the most dangerous situation.

Published On: August 1st, 2023

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In 2021, 19,900 people were killed in road accidents in EU countries, compared to 29,600 in 2010 (-33%). Hence, there are signs of improvement, but there are also stark differences between countries.

The average 33% reduction was in fact very unevenly distributed across the EU: generally high in countries that were already considered “safe” (with the exceptions of Poland, Lithuania, Portugal and Greece), while Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Latvia show the lowest reduction rates over the last decade.

International statistics usually measure the number of road accidents and fatalities as a share of population, as this is the easiest data to obtain and present. However, it is not always worth drawing far-reaching conclusions from this figure, as the number of motor vehicles as a proportion of the population also varies considerably between countries. Hungary and the Balkan countries have a lower motorisation rate (i.e. the number of cars per thousand inhabitants) compared to other European countries, and are therefore much worse off.

In Hungary, for instance, road accidents are 11% worse than the EU average in terms of population, but 78% worse when related to the number of cars. The graph below shows that Romania, Bulgaria, Latvia and Croatia are even worse off.

Although passenger cars are not the only vehicles on the roads, they account for the vast majority of kilometers driven per passenger. However, mileage data is collected only in a few countries and takes longer to publish, so we could only use data for 2019. The data include not only national vehicles, but also the ones transiting the countries, but also all vehicle categories, including trucks and buses, in addition to cars.

Romania, Northern Macedonia, Lithuania and Hungary are thus among the worst European countries when it comes to road accidents. It is worth comparing the situation to Sweden: while in Hungary there are 1.4 times more road deaths per capita, the difference is 3.6 times higher in terms of the number of vehicles, and 4.9 times higher in terms of vehicle per kilometers traveled.

The statistics for Hungary also show that motorways are 2.4 times more likely to be fatal than main roads, and 2.8 times more likely than secondary roads. Even though a motorway is safer overall, if an accident does occur, it is more likely to be fatal because of the higher speed. The lower the road category, the lower the chance of a fatal accident.

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