National Safety Experiment

Experiments are what moves the humanity forward, but the particular one carried out in Poland over the past weekend turned out to be a flop… Predictably.

The originator of the venture called “A weekend without causualties“* was the National Roads and Motorways Authority. The end was noble and maybe for that reason it justified peculiar means harnessed to attain it.

If you thought that drivers, cyclists, pedestrians and other roads users were encouraged to change their habits, behave more safely, avoid risky moves, act considerately, then sorry guys, you were wide of the mark. The PR agency that was responsible for preparing the campaign figured out it would not pay off to tell people to behave safely, not to speed, not to sit behind the wheel, nor cycle, after drinking alcohol. The core of the campaign was a clear message – if you’re potentially dangerous, stay at home. It’s best not to move at all. Don’t try to drive considerately, don’t drive at all! Of course there are situations such as being under the influence, when one surely should not drive any vehicle (including bikes), but sweeping the problem under the carpet is not a commendable method of coping with it. Education seems to be better that urging on abstention, doesn’t it?

And predictably the bottom line figures are pretty dire. The police has already provided us with preliminary stats and they reveal number of participants to the experiment was grossly insufficient. Over the last weekend there were:
525 accidents (excluding prangs), in which:
71 people died,
650 were injured,
and, watch out for the Polish roads’ hit, the police detained 2,794 drunk drivers.

Some of you would say pretty disgarceful state of Polish roads is to blame. Others would disagree and say despite this road users are guilty. Indeed driving around Poland is not a bed of roses, but we owe it not only to underdeveloped road infrastructure, but also to ourselves. A wise driver adjusts their speed and technique of driving to conditions on the road and failure to comply with this simple rule is the cause of many accidents. It’s not an excuse that the road was narrow, pot-holed, winding and without pavement. I’d also love to have wide three-lane dual carriageways with non-collision junctions, crash barriers, separate pavements, etc., but as we don’t have it yet, we have to drive slowly.

Speed kills, but speed also excites, makes us feel better, more self-confident, sexier, more powerful, but speed is, in my opinion not the main cause of traffic accidents in Poland. It’s not alcohol as well. It’s, if I’m not wrong, the failure to foresee other roads users’ moves. Driving is about thinking and predicting what can go wrong. If you don’t learn you should not declare you are a good driver. Maybe it’s weird, but every time I sit behind the wheel, before I start the engine, I trigger a thought that I can have an accident along the way, I don’t take it for granted I’ll reach my destination safely. This doesn’t have to help me avert mishaps, but probably if more drivers did it, number of accidents on Polish roads would be lower…

* I itinitally wanted to use the word “fatalities”, just later on it occured to me that you don’t have to die in an accident to be a victim of it…

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21 thoughts on “National Safety Experiment

  1. Malcolm says:

    Well said.
    Last Thursday I had three near misses in the space of five minutes.
    The first was a 60 year old woman driving through a red light
    The second was a 40 year old man not giving way as he left his driveway
    The third was from a BMW SUV aggressively tailgating and then overtaking me unexpectedly as I was avoiding a pothole

  2. I agree that ‘failure to foresee other roads users’ moves’ is an important part of safe driving, but given that other road users are frequently terrible, reducing speed to allow for evasive action is an essential part of that. In general, speeds seen on Polish roads are far too high, especially in wet conditions, in low visibility and on poor roads.

    I am always staggered by the way that otherwise rational, thoughtful and reasonable Poles drive poorly (too fast, not paying attention, not defensively), even with their children in the car.

    I once hired a minibus in Silesia to take a group of colleagues on a skiing trip. The driver anticipated problems, kept his distance and matched his speed to the conditions. I still remember it, seven years later, because such professional driving is so rare!

  3. Good article, Bartek. More Poles need to speak out about the dismal driving here.

    You’re absolutely right, by the way, people here do need to drive more carefully …and more slowly and with less alcohol in ’em. I personally think that nothing short of astronomical fines will get the population as a whole to slow down. Warnings on cigarettes never stopped anyone from smoking but increasing prices always gets people talking and thinking twice.

  4. k says:

    “I personally think that nothing short of astronomical fines will get the population as a whole to slow down. Warnings on cigarettes never stopped anyone from smoking but increasing prices always gets people talking and thinking twice.”

    I kind of disagree. Punishment never was something good. It’s short term solution. Especially in Poland where people always find some workaround for limits & rules they should respect (like CB radio, etc..) Somebody should rather sit and think why we ignore all the laws and safety on road and try to find out how to fix this. Increasing fines, putting a policeman on every corner and finally setting even more speed limits leads to nowhere. Recently someone figured out some obvious fact about speed cameras – they don’t work as expected and many of them (all those dummy) will be finally removed.

  5. Bob says:

    Bartek – good and timely post.

    The government (for a number of years now) has really attempted to use an educational approach to reduce the rising victimization on the Polish roads. (I do like your characterization that a victim is not only a fatality but all of the associated pain that comes with this).

    It seems to me that the soft approach is simply not going anywhere. I would suggest a drastic overhaul of the laws and penalties that are associated with drunk driving, excessive speed etc. to the point where it hurts the offender so much that it becomes a deterrent.

    No suspended sentences for drunk driving, confiscation of vehicles, jail time etc with immediate effect upon a clean capture. Brutal and hard hitting pain. House the offenders in empty warehouse space with the minimum conveniences acceptable by law. Upon release force them to stand on a street corner for a certain number of hours wearing a sandwich sign saying ‘My name is XXXX and I was caught drunk driving’

    In addition, on the internet post photos of those convicted and release them to the press as a hall of shame.

    In terms of speed – look at examples in Sweden and Switzerland where the penalties are meaningful and adjust for this country – make it hurt so much that people will think twice about speeding.

    Start using the speed cameras again and dispense with all of the foolishness that has caused most (if not all) of them to be taken out of service – and quadruple the number out there. Stop advertising where they are and make it illegal to post their locations on the internet and in nav devices.

    Thanks again for the post and I appreciate the ability to rant a bit about this.

  6. Bartek says:

    and today I slightly scratched the front bumper by rubbing it against a concrete flowerpot.

    but ok, this was only my fault… but my scratch after polishing is so small that it would take a magnifying glass to see it.

  7. Bartek says:

    This a great point Brad. Nothing would teach Poles to obey the rules better than solid financial penalties. Hit their wallets and you’ll teach them a lesson.

    What do you think about a system that functions as far as I’m concerned in Scandinavian countries, i.e. fine amounts are proportional to your income / wealth?

  8. Bartek says:

    Bob, some bright ideas, but hard to put into practise. Most would be opposed by human right defenders and other freaks.

    Speed cameras – you know how they work… Notice a speed camera –> skimming on the brakes –> passing the speed camera by –> downshifting –> floor!!!

    Sweden – fines are one side of the coin, the other, much more important, is the social disapproval of speeding. In Sweden if you drive faster than traffic signs tell you everyone thinks you’re a road hog. In Poland speeding is absolutely normal and everyone puts up with this…

  9. Ewa says:

    The UK cut down the number of drink driving incidents by using shame as a motivator and as a result, it’s now socially unacceptable to get in your car if you’ve had more than one drink and even then eyebrows are raised. They used a combination of shocking TV ads, random breath testing and harsh fines. And it worked.

    I heard that they tried to introduce ads here but that people found them too offensive. Go figure.

  10. Yana says:

    I remember a driving lesson in Poland, years ago. My driving instructor told me something like this: “you see, you’re learning now, so you have to obey all the rules, watch the speed limits etc but IN REAL LIFE if you see people ahead of you doing 70 km/h on a road with 40 km/h speed limit then just do the same.” That was his Road Tai Chi lesson – keep the cars flowing down the road and don’t be an obstacle…
    I tried, at the very beginning, to avoid speeding but other drivers were rather nasty to me. Sometimes even when I left them a lot of space so they could overtake me easily they just did everything to show me that being THAT slow (eg 80 km/h on a road with 90 km/h limit) was really lame.

  11. scatts says:

    I’m waiting for Dembinski to turn up! ;)

    I’ve said everything I have to say on this subject about 1,000 times now. It needs Poles to understand the problem and want to fix it. Tens of people dead every time there’s a public holiday is shameful.

  12. Poles – a great people. But put them behind a steering wheel and suddenly they turn into a nation of total d***head a********s.

    How else can you describe such indifference to the suffering caused by mass carnage on the roads?

    Post dedicated to the idiot woman in a pale gold Toyota RAV4 who drives through Jeziorki each day. Speed limit’s 30 – not 60. Once watched her in my rear view mirror going through THREE red lights on Puławska. And the guy in a black Maserati using his laptop while driving down Puławska. A*******.

  13. Bob says:

    Bartek – I believe that it can always be done. What it requires is simple:

    Recognition of the problems (some in gov’t seem to be getting there)
    Resolve (balls) to step out and take the hard decisions and make it work.

    I see neither in Poland with regard to the issues.

    It will continue to get worse IMHO

  14. Bartek says:

    You crafty mate, how did you conjure up Michael’s follow up?

  15. Bartek says:

    Do you think those idiots read Polandian?

  16. Bartek says:

    Bob, I believe it takes all of us to solve the problem of safety, not just governemnt, police, etc.

    You can change the highway code, you can impose sky-high fines, but what if people don’t give a shit about the strict law, fines are not collected, law is not enforced.

  17. Bob says:

    Bartek,

    I agree – in addition to what I posited how would you add to that to create a closed circle to improve the situation?

    Bo

  18. scatts says:

    Bob, death sentence for anyone convicted of bad driving. Jury to consist of yourself, me and Dembinski.

    That should sort it! ;)

  19. Bob says:

    scatts – I believe even the mention in the press that the troika has been formed will see an initial reduction in this sort of activity.

    However, if there is a significant % of Poles with suicidal thoughts, traffic infractions may rise dramatically.

  20. Marek says:

    I think this article is very good one. I have been looking for such a forum of this huge problem with the dangers of Polish driving. I have met Poles who drive safely and within the speed limit, unfortunately they are in the minority.
    I can not believe how some peole drive here. I come from Finland, where mostly people drive very nicely.
    I hope this would change here in Poland. Please inform us about some organization in Poland which promotes safe driving?
    And what makes me very angry is the ignorance that it seems no one cares here sometimes. You pay only 25 euros for speeding ticket. In Finland this can be thousands of euros. The rich evil drivers in Poland care only about money so hit their wallets!

  21. Siegfried says:

    I am Polish and I have to admit that we are not very good drivers – we drive too fast, our roads suck and our cars are old. its not a winning combination :(

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