Road Safety

More than 30,000 road traffic accidents take place in Finland each year. In 2011, there were a total of 6,397 road traffic accidents that led to injuries or fatalities. The accidents resulted in 292 deaths and 7,919 injuries.

Vehicle Safety Systems Improve Road Safety

In the early 1970s, more than one thousand people died in road traffic accidents in Finland each year. When the number of motor vehicles and total vehicle mileage are taken into account, that figure is many times higher than today.

Seat belts for drivers and front-seat passengers became compulsory in Finland at the beginning of 1971. However, although passenger cars were fitted with seat belts, wearing them was not compulsory at the time. The lack of use probably partly explains the high number of fatalities in road traffic accidents in the early 1970s.

The number of road fatalities continued to grow for the next couple of years, after which the number began to fall rapidly. Key reasons for this trend probably included changes in attitudes, the introduction of speed limits, as well as the introduction of a law requiring people to wear a seat belt on 1 July 1975.

In 1981, all new passenger cars had to be fitted with seat belts also on the back seat. In addition, cars were fitted with headlight washers, and rear window defoggers were standardized in 1981.

In April 1982, failure to use a seat belt became a punishable offense. Another factor contributing to the positive development was the introduction at the same time of a law requiring moped riders to wear a helmet.

A law requiring back-seat passengers of passenger cars to wear a seat belt entered into force on 1 November 1987 – 12 years after the introduction of a corresponding law for front-seat occupants.

In the mid-1990s, anti-lock braking systems, electronic stability control systems and airbags became increasingly common. Initially, new passenger cars were fitted with one airbag to protect the driver during collision. Nowadays, cars are fitted with several airbags and curtain airbags that form a sort of a safety capsule to protect the occupants of the vehicle. Today, all new passenger cars are equipped with anti-lock braking systems, and an electronic stability control system is provided as standard feature in nearly all new models.

Vehicle Safety Systems Are Developing and Expanding

The latest new features affecting safety in passenger cars include, for example, driver assistance systems, collision avoidance systems, automatic emergency call systems, powerful xenon headlights that turn on curves, lane departure warning systems that warn the driver if the vehicle begins to move out of its lane, intelligent speed adaptation systems, as well as other radar systems aimed at improving safety or facilitating parking. New devices and systems are being developed continuously, and the number of commercial applications in vehicles is increasing all the time.

Safety of New Cars Is Improving

New automobiles are significantly safer than old ones. This was the conclusion of a study published by Aalto University in March 2012 on two-car accidents and their consequences.

According to the study, when compared to ten-year-old models, the safety of the newest car models had improved by 10–50%, depending on the method used.

Furthermore, new cars were less likely to experience accidents than older models. The kerb weight of passenger cars has increased gradually, and the weight differences between car classes have reduced. In addition, the external dimensions of vehicles have increased, and also car body structures have developed over the years. New cars feature crumple zones that better absorb the energy from the impact of a collision, leaving the passenger compartment non-deformed. Also the better brake systems of new vehicles have improved road safety.

In Finland, the development of road safety is hampered by the country’s old motor vehicle population; the average age of passenger cars registered in Finland is 13,1 years. Reducing the average age of vehicles would improve road safety significantly, as old vehicles would be removed from traffic.

Crash Testing – Euro NCAP

The European car crash test system, European New Car Assessment Programme (Euro NCAP), was established in 1997. NCAP is a rating system originally introduced in the United States in 1979. It has been applied to crash testing for more than 25 years. Thanks to crash tests, vehicle safety has advanced tremendously, especially as the tests nowadays cover not only frontal-impact tests but also side-impact tests, as well as child and pedestrian safety.

The improvement of Euro NCAP test results is largely the result of the development of car body structures. Today’s car bodies have crumple zones that absorb the kinetic energy of an impact by controlled deformation. The rigid passenger cabin is protected from deformation, leaving passengers enough space to survive even serious collisions. By combining capsule structures with special steels, it has been possible to multiply the strength and impact energy absorption capacity of body structures. One example is boron steel, which many automobile manufacturers are already using in body structures. The use of boron steel reduces the vehicle’s weight while providing about eight times greater strength than normal body structure steel.

The Weakest Link – Humans

The most common cause of accidents is found between the wheel and the driver’s seat. In 2010, running off the road represented 40% of all motor vehicle accidents (VALT Annual Report 2010). The share of head-on collisions was 34%, while junction accidents accounted for 34% and turning accidents for 11%.

According to the VALT study, seat belt was worn by 54% of those who died and by 64% of those who were injured in fatal accidents. Of those who died not wearing a seat belt, 33% would probably have been saved if they had been wearing a seat belt.

The most typical single risk factor was the driver’s steering error. Speed-related background factors, such as speeding or excessive speed with respect to driving conditions, driver’s skills or the vehicle, were present in 44% of all motor vehicle accidents.

Fatal accidents resulting from a purely technical failure in the vehicle were extremely rare.

For more up-to-date information on road safety, visit the following websites:

Ministry of Transport and Communications
Finnish Motor Insurers’ Centre
Finnish Transport Safety Agency (Trafi)