Safe streets in Poland thanks to Swiss expertise

Article, 10.04.2015

With 86 fatalities per million inhabitants every year, Poland – together with Luxembourg – ranks second among the most dangerous countries in Europe for road safety. On 6 February 2015, the Polish parliament adopted a law to improve road safety, which was signed by the Polish president on 2 April 2015. The road safety project, part of Switzerland's enlargement contribution, provided Swiss expertise to support this process.

A police officer checks a driver's licence.
Police check vehicles in Poland. DEZA/SECO

Since its accession to the EU in 2004, traffic in Poland has risen sharply but very little has been done to adapt the road infrastructure. There is scant public awareness about road accident risks, and speeding and drink-driving are widespread. With the road safety project, Switzerland is contributing to better road safety in Poland. The project focuses on transferring knowledge between Swiss and Polish officials responsible for road safety, with Switzerland bringing its long years of experience in reducing accident rates to the table.

Switzerland has one of the best road safety records in the world – in 2013, there were just 33 fatalities per million inhabitants. As part of the project, the participating Polish municipalities have mandated roadworks for 60 dangerous traffic situations. In addition, the Polish national police has – partly in cooperation with Swiss specialists – carried out courses for 650 police officers and transport planners. 

Higher penalties for drink-driving
The Polish parliament adopted a revised traffic law on 6 February 2015, which was signed by the Polish president on 2 April 2015 and is expected to enter into force in May 2015. The new law provides for higher fines for traffic offences and stricter punishment for drink-driving. In addition, Poland has introduced support services for victims modelled on the Swiss system. Drivers who cause an accident under the influence of alcohol are now legally required to pay a fine to the victim, the victim's family or to the victim assistance fund.
The Polish public has welcomed the new law. According to an opinion poll in November 2014, 85% of the respondents were in favour of increasing criminal penalties for traffic violations in Poland.

The revised law was brought about by various factors and events, with Switzerland's enlargement contribution project for road safety making an important contribution. In December 2013, the Swiss-Polish Parliamentary Friendship Group organised a workshop in the Polish parliament to present Swiss expertise in road safety and discuss proposals for improvements in this field. The workshop was also attended by the president of the Polish Parliamentary Commission on Justice and Human Rights, who initiated the revision of the law a few weeks later in Parliament. The urgency to revise the law was further increased by a serious accident in which a drunk driver drove into a group of pedestrians killing six people, sending shock waves around the country.

Initiatives by other stakeholders
Initiatives by other stakeholders also had an impact on the revision of the road traffic act, such as the World Bank's support in preparing Poland's "National Road Safety Programme 2013-2020" which seeks to reduce the number of road accidents and fatalities. Poland has also signed the UN resolution on improving global road safety and committed itself to implementing the EU's road safety programme.

The new law in Poland demonstrates the potential impact of an individual project at the political level, and how bilateral dialogue and the transfer of Swiss expertise can make a difference and lead to positive changes.