NIK’s mega-report on road safety

Poland takes one of last places in the European Union in terms of safety. From 2010 to 2020, the average of over 3.2 thousand people were killed in Poland (about 8 every day). Only in 2019, over 37 thousand persons got injured. Losses caused by accidents are estimated at over PLN 56 billion per year.  

NIK prepared its first mega-report summing up audits on road traffic safety in 2013-2014 (NIK on road traffic safety). The statistics were horrifying: over 47 thousand people died on Polish roads from 2004 to 2013 and much more than half a million got injured. The audit covered key entities responsible for road safety. In 2014, NIK presented its findings and proposals of changes. They overlapped with recommendations of the World Bank.

Ever since, road safety has become a crucial element of many NIK audits. The Supreme Audit Office analysed the data for 2015-2019 and resolved to readdress the issue in system terms. The data showed that neither Poland nor European countries reported significant road safety improvement. In that period, the number of road accidents did go down, as well as the number of their victims with severe and light injuries (by over 5% and 13% respectively). However, the number of road crashes increased considerably (by 25.5%). The number of fatalities was comparable (2 938 in 2015 and 2 909 in 2019). In 2020, the number of accidents dropped by over 22% as compared with 2019.  As many as 2 491 persons got killed in those accidents and 26 436 individuals were injured (over 14% and 25% less against 2019, correspondingly).

Road safety statistics – data for Poland. NUMBER OF ROAD CRASHES: 362 265 in 2015; 406 622 in 2016; 436 469 in 2017; 436 414 in 2018; 455 454 in 2019; 382 046 in 2020. NUMBER OF ROAD ACCIDENTS: 32 967 in 2015; 33 664 in 2016; 32 760 in 2017; 31 674 in 2018; 30 288 in 2019; 23 540 in 2020. NUMBER OF FATALITIES PER 100 ACCIDENTS: 8.9 in 2015; 9 in 2016; 8.6 in 2017; 9 in 2018; 9.6 in 2019; 10.6 in 2020. NUMBER OF SEVERELY INJURED PER 100 ACCIDENTS: 34 in 2015; 36 in 2016; 33.9 in 2017; 34.6 in 2018; 35.1 in 2019; 37.4 in 2020. *in 2020 traffic was much lower than in previous years because of coronavirus pandemic. Source: NIK’s analysis

The traffic on Polish roads in 2020 was much lower than in previous years which was mainly due to the epidemic and movement restrictions, not as a result of system improvement in road safety. It should be noted, though, that despite a major drop in the number of road incidents, the fatality rate per 100 accidents went up (from 9.6 in 2019 to 10.58 in 2020), and Poland is still one of the EU leaders in terms of road fatalities.

Poland against EU – accident rate trends. Number of road fatalities per 1 million inhabitants in 2020: Romania – 85; Poland – 65; EU – 42; Norway – 18; Sweden – 18. Source: NIK’s analysis

Findings presented in this mega-report are an outcome of a dozen or so audits dealing with road safety. Before publishing the report, NIK organised an expert panel on road safety (Safety of road users - expert panel at NIK).

Key mega-report findings

Poland still does not have a common and consistent road safety system in place. It is the case despite the fact that many institutions, including NIK and the World Bank, recommended that the system should be set up as soon as possible. The NIK audit revealed that the National Road Safety Council, regardless of its broad statutory competence, could not effectively initiate or coordinate road safety activities performed by the government administration. In the audited period, the Council’s priorities were not adopted, no stationary meeting took place and its works were limited to consulting and accepting documents on a circular basis. Besides, in the audited period the National Road Safety Council did not initiate or even advise a single draft legal act, although drafts of some important acts were proceeded in that period: e.g. on the priority of pedestrians on zebra crossings, mileage fraud prevention as well as changes to the system of vehicle technical inspections. Moreover, the Council did not address the implementation of NIK’s audit recommendations after the audits.

In 2015, the Government Commissioner for Road Safety was appointed. For unknown reasons, though, the position was liquidated after 20 months. Besides, Poland still lacks a system to plan and analyse effects of road safety improvement measures. Some of the audited entities (Police, General Inspectorate of Road Transport - GIRT) conducted analyses on their own but due to the complexity and versatile nature of factors influencing road safety they were incomplete and did not enable objective and clear-cut evaluation of the effectiveness of actions taken. In view of worsening statistics of road accidents, the Commander-in-Chief of the Police requested the science and research facilities in 2016 to conduct relevant studies and research. However, since regular financing could not be provided in several years’ perspective, the studies were not carried out. Practically, all the entities involved in road safety have experienced financial problems for many years now. The National Road Safety Programme for 2013-2020 adopted in 2013 gave hopes for improvement. In its mega-report of 2014, NIK made a reservation that the objectives defined there may not be achieved if the road safety system does not undergo fundamental changes. The changes were not introduced, though, which – in NIK’s opinion – was one of the reasons why the Programme objectives were not achieved.

The National Road Safety Council did not know to what extent the National Programme objectives were achieved, nor did it analyses that issue. No comprehensive, periodical studies were carried out to evaluate the actual impact of actions taken on road safety in Poland.

Road safety requires continuous and current analysis so that recommended and implemented legal solutions aim at permanent road safety improvement and allow for quick response to changing conditions (e.g. use of electric scooters on a massive scale). Unfortunately, it takes very long to change the law, even if some cases are not very complicated (e.g. to establish emergency lanes or settle the status of electric scooters). The whole range of proceeded changes were not implemented (e.g. announced changes to the maximum fine amount or law changes recommended by NIK in the mega-report of 2014, referring to fines for speeding detected by mobile speed cameras or penalising of non-EU foreigners who violated the Polish law).

NIK has positively evaluated preventive measures – related to education and information -  taken by some of the audited entities (e.g. by the Police).

Roads in Poland are a separate problem. They are among the most dangerous ones in the European Union. Sadly, improvement of the road infrastructure and high expenses in that area did not help radically enhance road safety indicators. Proper road marking, tailored to road users’ real needs is also an issue. Since Poland accessed the EU, the construction of new sections of motorways and expressways has clearly accelerated. As a consequence, traffic has been moved to multi-lane roads which helps limit the most dangerous accidents, especially head-on and side crashes. But the number of road accidents with fatalities and severely injured on Polish motorways and expressways is still big.

The technical condition of roads depends among others on the managing body. National roads are managed by the General Directorate for National Roads and Motorways and local roads – by the local government units at all levels (over 95% of all roads in Poland). The latter are usually in a much worse condition that the roads managed by the General Directorate, which has impact on their users’ safety.

Road accidents in 2020 by road type. MOTORWAYS (1715 km) – 291 accidents, 54 fatalities, 396 injured; EXPRESSWAYS (2571 km) – 396 accidents, 66 fatalities, 508 injured; OTHER NATIONAL ROADS (15165 km) – 4628 accidents, 663 fatalities, 5447 injured; PROVINCIAL ROADS (30060 km) – 4771 accidents, 583 fatalities, 5523 injured; OTHER PUBLIC ROADS (375404 km) – 13454 accidents, 1125 fatalities, 14589 injured. Source: NIK’s analysis based on data of the Police Headquarters

The general technical condition of the pavement of national roads managed by the General Directorate has remained at a similar level in the past years (with some fluctuations). Nevertheless, at the end of 2020, nearly 40% of those roads was in a bad or unsatisfactory condition and as much as PLN 4.8 billion was needed for urgent repairs. It should be noted, though, that the General Directorate planned spending about PLN 500 million on that purpose.

It is much worse with lower-category roads. There are no specific, nationwide data on the condition of local roads. Although each local government should  have such local data, they cannot be collected and compared easily, and thus it may be difficult to estimate financial needs for essential repairs.

Local road in Ossówno (Mazowieckie Province). Source: NIK’s audit materials

In case of local government units, the majority of NIK’s reservations concerned the way of implementing audit recommendations made by road administrators in the past years, which resulted mainly from insufficient funds.

It was similar with bridges and culverts. Most of them – administered by the General Directorate – were assessed as appropriate or satisfactory. Regrettably, a very large part of such structures administered by local governments, were in an alarming, unsatisfactory or pre-failure condition. It was particularly bad in case of administrators at the district level, where none of the audited bridges or culverts was in a satisfactory condition. For financial reasons, district and communal administrators limited repairs, renovations and modernisations. In some cases there was too little money to maintain crossings in their existing technical condition. In draft annual financial plans, the administrators indicated much bigger amounts than actually allocated ones. As a result, five crossings were used nearly to the limit. Due to financial deficits, the administrators could not implement audit recommendations from 2018–2019.

Not much has changed in terms of road marking. Most of the audited entities have not yet replaced all signs, traffic lights and road safety devices, which did not comply with the conditions set out in the ordinance of the Minister of Transport of 3 July 2003. The latest replacement deadline was at the end of 2011 and was related to traffic lights and road safety devices at railway crossings before the ordinance came into force.

Besides, on ¼ of 91 pedestrians crossings the actual traffic organisation differed from the one resulting from the project. It happened that the crossings lacked some signs included in the documentation or some devices were used which were not mentioned in the documentation. In some cases signs informing about the pedestrian crossing or a speed limit were blocked by tree branches, bushes or other vertical signs.

Police

Road transport supervision is exercised mainly by the Police and the General Inspectorate of Road Transport. In the audited period, the level of road safety specialist training improved. As much as ⅔ of traffic police officers completed that training. They also underwent specialist training of other types. In that period, nearly 90% of police officers from the Road Traffic Division were sent to the Traffic Police. Some of them were not properly trained, though. In particular, some of those police officers could not tell if drivers were under the influence of alcohol or other psychoactive substances. Those were consequences of training imperfections or limited number of vacancies in specialist training programmes. According to NIK this situation can limit the quality of some tasks performed by the traffic police, which require specialist knowledge and entitlements.

As in previous years, NIK had some reservations about identification of road safety threats (including selection of dangerous places). The diagnosis made by the Police was mainly based on the analysis of statistical data taken from the Police information systems. To little extent was it supported by expert knowledge, including the one deriving from scientific research. There was also a shortage of police cars, specialist accident warning signs, drug tests. Breathalysers used by the Police were often not subject to obligatory standardisation or calibration. In 9 of 10 audited police offices more than half of those devices were not calibrated. In 50% of the audited police offices, 14 breathalysers were not standardised. The Police data show how serious the situation is – in 2020, more than 10% of road users participated in accidents under the influence of alcohol.

Road accidents (and their consequences) with road users under the influence of alcohol in 2020. In 2020, road users (drivers, pedestrians, passengers) being under the influence of alcohol participated in 2540 road accidents (nearly 11% of all accidents); 327 persons got killed (over 13% of all fatalities) and 2723 persons got injured (over 10% of all injured); Persons under the influence of alcohol usually participated in road accidents on weekends (about 20%); In 2020, from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. persons under the influence of alcohol participated in 1205 accidents which makes up over 47% of all accidents with their participation; Number of accidents with drunk drivers. Source: NIK’s analysis based on data of the Police Headquarters

Unfortunately, neither public administration bodies, nor effective legal regulations, nor organisational or technical solutions, effectively helped eliminate drunk persons from traffic. Notwithstanding valid driving bans in courts, convicts were still driving cars while drunk. In 2020, as many as 6 184 persons were convicted by first instance courts for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (they had already been convicted before for the same reason).

Road safety was significantly influenced by considerable delays in implementing the IT system called the Accidents and Collisions Register (ACR). In accordance with the act, the law on the Central Register of Drivers were assumed to come into force at the beginning of 2013. Until the end of the audit of 2020, the system assumptions were not fully implemented.

The reliability of data on road incidents is still limited, despite the fact that the Police Headquarters introduced changes to ACR. It is important because based on ACR the Police select dangerous spots and deploy police patrols. The data are also used to evaluate costs of road accidents and collisions. Very important irregularities were identified in the Police units at the district and city levels. They were mainly related to data on incident location or severity of injuries inflicted by road accident casualties.

NIK has noted that the scope of road incidents registered in ACR is limited to the ones which took place on a public road, in the traffic area or residence area. The completeness of data on road incidents in the register has impact on the knowledge of the actual number of accidents in a given place. This may have an adverse influence on the planning of preventive measures. An example is an accident near Bełchatów where two motorcyclists got killed on an open-access road.

Road accident on 9 June 2020 in Dębina near Bełchatów (Łódzkie Province). Source: District Police Office in Bełchatów

Police officers from the District Police Office in Bełchatów established that the communal road section where the accident took place no longer fell under the ‘public road’ category. That was enough not to include that information in ACR. Interestingly enough, ACR included information about a road accident in the same place in 2018. In the Police practice there are incidents referred to as static accidents. Then the only victim is the person who caused an accident. In the light of the Penal Code that occurrence is not qualified as an accident. According to NIK, the Police should collect data on all road incidents, including data on injuries of all participants, regardless of whether the perpetrator was the only victim and of how the case ended. It happened that light injuries were recorded in ACR, although pedestrians suffered serious injuries following an incident. In an extreme case, the ACR did not include information about a person who died a dozen or so days after an accident.

After the audit of activities taken by the Police to ensure safety to unprotected road users in 2016, NIK recommended that the enforcement of drivers’ responsibility for violating regulations on pedestrians’ safety should be strengthened. However, the following audit revealed that, despite limited resources, police officers largely focused on enforcing responsibility of pedestrians for violating the law. It was the case, although the statistics indicated that the majority of accidents with the participation of pedestrians was not caused by them. In 2019, the relation of the number of fines, cautions and motions to penalise drivers to the number of road incidents caused by them was 9:1. In the same period, the relation with regard to pedestrians was 52:1. That was a slight improvement, anyway, because in 2016 those relations were 9:1 and 86:1 respectively.

General Inspectorate of Road Transport (GIRT)

Another body responsible for road safety in Poland is the General Inspectorate of Road Transport. One of elements managed by that institution is the road traffic automatic supervision system, consisting of speed cameras, section control devices and red light cameras. As of 31 December 2020, there were 485 of such devices installed Poland-wide (on average, 1.6 per 1 thousand km2 of the area of Poland). To compare with, Belgium had 37 such devices per 1 km2, Germany - 10, and France - 4.

Already in 2013, NIK identified some personnel issues in GIRT, especially in the Road Traffic Automatic Supervision Centre (RTASC). Staff shortages were confirmed by the audit in 2018. The staff turnover rate reached 90% at that time.

NIK has already emphasised that adjusting the headcount in RTASC to the number assumed in the project feasibility study would absorb about PLN 5.5 million per year. That amount corresponded with the yearly average of 0.7% of fines not imposed on accident perpetrators (PLN 788.7 million). The headcount problems had impact on the system effectiveness, because as a consequence not all vehicles exceeding the speed limit were registered by speed cameras.

Speed thresholds at which law violation was registered were often much higher level than the statutory speed limits. The shortage of employees resulted among others in prolonging procedures to establish perpetrators of registered offences. Although works were pending to change the law, there are still no effective mechanisms to enforce responsibility for breaching the road traffic law with regard to non-EU foreigners. GIRT is working to improve the system effectiveness, however delays in case of some tasks reached from 24 days up to one year. In most cases they were independent of GIRT (e.g. the COVID-19 pandemic).

In the audited period, as part of RTASC, nearly 2.8 million monitions to vehicle owners were sent. While they were being processed, nearly 1.4 million fines were issued and over 8.3 thousand cases were filed to court.

Only in 2018, over 467 thousand cases (about 17%)  became statute-barred where the estimated value of fines totalled nearly PLN 72 million.

Rescue measures

Units being part of the Polish Emergency Medical Service and the National Firefighting and Rescue System are not directly responsible for road safety. However, in case of road incidents, the health and life of victims is determined by how smoothly those services operate. It is the responsibility of province governors to provide organisational conditions for medical rescue teams to reach persons who need medical aid in a specific time (and thus meet statutory parameters). However, in none of the audited provinces such conditions were provided.

In 2017, in over 18% of cases the Polish Emergency Medical Service did not reach patients requiring urgent medical aid in a required time and in 2018 it was more than 28%. The limits for paramedics to reach the site were met only in case of incidents accompanied by the sudden cardiac arrest.

First aid provided to accident victims was also insufficient: only every second victim received it. Staff shortages have been an issue for many years now. Until 2020, despite the system reorganisation and higher spending on its operation, underlying, long-term problems have not been solved, such as: shortage of emergency physicians, overcrowding of accident and emergency departments with low-risk patients and long ambulance waiting times.

NIK has positively evaluated the National Firefighting and Rescue System (NFRS). The NFRS units were characterised by high availability, whereas the availability of professional units, that is the State Fire Service, Military Fire Service and Company Fire Service was 100%, and in case of the Voluntary Fire Service it was about 96%. The percentage of rescue interventions where a firefighting and rescue unit reached the site in less than 15 minutes, oscillated around 90%. The training system for professional and voluntary firefighters was effective.

NIK has also pointed out that despite efforts taken by subsequent ministers of internal affairs, no digital radio communications system has been created to enable direct information exchange by rescue services. According to NIK, the existing analogue system does not allow simultaneous information exchange by numerous users, which may have an adverse impact on the efficiency of conducted rescue activities. That issue was already raised by NIK in 2014.

Technical condition of vehicles and training of drivers

In accordance with the Police data, in 2020 unroadworthy vehicles were an immediate cause of 64 accidents (0.3%) in which 8 persons got killed. The analysis of available statistical data shows that Poland is unique when compared to other European countries in terms of negative results of technical inspections. Out of nearly 19 million inspections made in Poland in 2020, only 2.5% ended in a negative result. In Germany, of about 10 million technical inspections selected by random, as much as 20% of vehicles were not found roadworthy. A similar tendency has been observed in Finland where in 2017-2020, serious mechanical defects were identified in one of five cars, thus making them unroadworthy. Considering the number of registered cars in Poland (more than 25 million in 2020) and reports of possible overestimation of that figure, as well as the number of vehicle technical inspections one may draw a conclusion that a big part of cars on public roads in Poland do not have valid technical inspections. Already in 2014, in its mega-report NIK stated that the supervision of vehicle inspection centres needs strengthening. Also in 2014, an EU Directive was published, which obliged EU member states to adjust their legislation to the EU legal acts on periodic technical inspections. They were supposed to come into force on 20 May 2018 – in Poland it was not the case then. There are still no regulations to enable effective elimination of unroadworthy vehicles. The system of training candidates for drivers is far from perfect. A lot of accidents are caused by young and inexperienced drivers. In 2019, as many as 462 persons died in 4 910 accidents caused by such drivers and 6 409 got injured. However, although in 2014-2019 the number of such accidents was falling, their severity did not change. NIK had reservations about the way district governors supervised driver training centres and the way province governors supervised road traffic centres.

Recommendations

NIK has recommended that the Council of Ministers should:

  • appoint – by legislation – an institution responsible for the state’s comprehensive policy on road safety;
  • ensure stable financing of road safety tasks;
  • create the system of planning activities to improve road safety and analyse effectiveness of actions taken in that area;
  • consider amending the law by:
    • changing the procedure of imposing speeding fines;
    • making it possible to effectively penalise foreigners who violate road traffic regulations;
    • structuring provisions of law on road marking;
    • implementing changes in terms of automatic road traffic supervision (e.g. empty speed cameras, use of intelligent transport systems).  
  • further expand and modernise infrastructure, with particular focus on road safety solutions;
  • effectively supervise issues related to the technical condition of vehicles;
  • improve effectiveness of the driver licensing system;
  • continue increasing effectiveness of rescue services’ operations;
  • promote proper behaviours of road users.

Article informations

Date of creation:
21 July 2021 18:01
Date of publication:
21 July 2021 18:01
Published by:
Marta Połczyńska
Date of last change:
22 July 2021 11:01
Last modified by:
Marta Połczyńska
Photo collage: police officer with mobile speed camera; road accident site; bird's eye view of roundabout © Adobe Stock

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