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Leigh Turner

Ambassador to Austria and UK Permanent Representative to the United Nations and other International Organisations in Vienna

Part of UK in Ukraine

3rd June 2011

The teenage traffic victim

The teenager is lying motionless in the road.  The driver of the black Porsche Cayenne stands over him, horrified.  A couple of passers-by are on their mobile phones, perhaps calling the police or an ambulance.

I saw this scene recently in Kyiv on Ivana Mazepu Street, down which I walk and drive regularly.  Although the street is often thickly populated with traffic policemen (sic – I have not yet seen a woman traffic officer in Kyiv) flagging down passing motorists, I have never seen one of them stop a car for speeding.  Meanwhile some motorists drive down this street at immense velocity, particularly at night, apparently confident that they face little risk of paying a penalty or losing their licence.  In these circumstances there seems little incentive to drive responsibly; and Ukraine has one of the worst records for traffic fatalities in Europe.

There are many factors involved in traffic accidents, as this nifty Wikipedia site makes clear.  It’s hard to make international comparisons, given the differing numbers of vehicles on roads, the amounts people drive, and so on.  But the wiki site has some interesting figures for EU countries, showing numbers killed per billion kilometres travelled (the safest country is the Netherlands, followed by Sweden and the UK).  A less sophisticated analysis for countries worldwide, showing traffic fatalities per 100,000 population, shows Ukraine to have a level of 21.5, compared with Poland at 14.7, the US at 12.3 and the UK at 3.6.  A recent statement by President Yanukovych said that Ukraine was “fifth in Europe in terms of deaths in road accidents” with 4,709 fatalities in 2010.  A 2007 EU study also put Ukraine amongst the more dangerous countries surveyed.

The question is how to reduce those figures.  This graph shows some of the elements which have made a difference in the UK over the last 90 years (the gradual diminution conceals the fact that the number of cars on the road has soared during that period).  There is no doubt that many different factors play a role, including road design, vehicle safety and control over the issue of licences – itself sometimes alleged to be corrupt in Ukraine.  Several external bodies, including the EU and the World Bank, have done their bit to try and help.  What else could Ukraine do?

One question relates to the role of the traffic police.  Visitors to Ukraine are often surprised to find that the streets of large cities are routinely lined with police flagging down cars.  This procedure is rare in most European countries.  The fact that Ukraine has exceptionally high numbers of traffic fatalities could suggest that it doesn’t much help road safety. If the traffic police could do more visibly to help cut road deaths, eg by preventing reckless driving, this would give Ukraine’s pedestrians – and careful drivers – greater confidence in a service whose reputation is currently undermined by widespread accusations that they take bribes.  Similarly, if the Ukrainian authorities are serious about reducing the number of tragic and needless deaths on Ukraine’s roads, a good start might be to examine whether the traffic police are actually making the maximum possible contribution to road safety.  None of us want to see more teenage traffic victims on the streets of Kyiv – or anywhere else.

About Leigh Turner

I hope you find this blog interesting and, where appropriate, entertaining. My role in Vienna covers the relationship between Austria and the UK as well as the diverse work of…

I hope you find this blog interesting and, where appropriate, entertaining. My role in Vienna covers the relationship between Austria and the UK as well as the diverse work of the UN and other organisations; stories here will reflect that.

About me: I arrived in Vienna in August 2016 for my second posting in this wonderful city, having first served here in the mid-1980s. My previous job was as HM Consul-General and Director-General for Trade and Investment for Turkey, Central Asia and South Caucasus based in Istanbul.

Further back: I grew up in Nigeria, Exeter, Lesotho, Swaziland and Manchester before attending Cambridge University 1976-79. I worked in several government departments before joining the Foreign Office in 1983.

Keen to go to Africa and South America, I’ve had postings in Vienna (twice), Moscow, Bonn, Berlin, Kyiv and Istanbul, plus jobs in London ranging from the EU Budget to the British Overseas Territories.

2002-6 I was lucky enough to spend four years in Berlin running the house, looking after the children (born 1992 and 1994) and doing some writing and journalism.

To return to Vienna as ambassador is a privilege and a pleasure. I hope this blog reflects that.