Case study: Finland’s journey to safer roads

Case study: Finland’s journey to safer roads

Did you know?

In Finland Headlights must be used 24/7,regardless of season or time of day. Fitting winter tyres to vehicles is compulsory between the 1st December and the end of February.

When it comes to road safety, Finland ranks amongst the top performing countries in the world. According to statistics published by the World Health Organisation (WHO)1, the number of road fatalities are, like for like, considerably lower in Finland than in any other country. At 4.4 fatalities per 100,000 vehicles, Finland witnesses far fewer deaths on its roads than the UK, for example, where this figure stands at 5.1 per 100,000.

In order to identify whether the UK could benefit from implementing road safety strategies employed in Finland, we looked into the legislation and infrastructure this Nordic country has put in place in a bid to eradicate road traffic fatalities altogether.

Legislation

Drink driving

According to the WHO, 22% of road traffic fatalities in Finland involve alcohol. By law, a driver’s blood alcohol content (BAC) must not exceed 0.05%, slightly lower that the 0.08% UK limit. Lucy Amos, research advisor at road safety charity Brake, indicates that “England and Wales currently have one of the highest drink- drive limits in Europe,” but suggests that lowering this could have a positive effect on drink driving behaviour.

People found guilty of driving under the influence in Finland can expect a fine or up to six month imprisonment if their BAC is between 0.05% and 0.12%, and 60 day-fines (based on income, dependents and violation) or a maximum prison sentence of two years should their BAC exceed 0.12%. Although the UK has strict drink-driving penalties, such as driving bans and unlimited fines, the maximum prison sentence is, at 6 months, significantly shorter than in Finland.

Speed Limits: Finland vs UK

Finland

Urban – 30mph

Non-urban – 50mph

Motorways – 50-75mph

Speeding penalty

Use day-fines system (never less than £100), but do not employ points system.

UK

Urban – 30mph

Non-urban – 60mph

Motorways – 70mph

Speeding penalty

Minimum - £100 fine and three penalty points added to driving license.

Education

We spoke to Pasi Anteroinen – Organisation Manager at Liikenneturva, the Finnish Road Safety Council, who told us a little bit about the way in which Finland approach road safety education. “It’s important to activily push for new innovations in the educational sector,” says Anteroinen. He reveals that children aged 9-12 will soon be using 360 degree virtual reality apps to learn about road safety in schools, which will help them make better judgements of dangerous traffic situations in real life. However, while road safety education in schools is of paramount importance, in Finland this is an ongoing, lifelong process which encompasses the wider, local community.

Working together

Anteroinen indicates that ”cooperation is a very important factor for Finnish road safety.” The Liikennertuva ”offer support to community politicians and health, education and infrastructure professionals and motivated them to take into account traffic safety in their work.”

We strive for a lifelong education to support people to make safe choices in traffic.

Pasi Anteroinen – Organisation Manager, Liikenneturva

Amos believes that similar tactics could also prove to be fruitful in the UK, and states that “providing greater support to local authorities is vital to developing road safety in the UK.” She continues by highlighting that “recent legislation has given local authorities increasing control of their local roads but failed to back these increased powers with effective funding or resources”; however, suggests that “if the government provides support in this sense, more work could be done to improve local roads and reduce death and serious injuries.”

Stay sharp in traffic

‘Stay Sharp in Traffic’ began as a traffic safety campaign in 20092, and has since become a part of the compulsory military service in Finland – counting around 30,000 men and women amongst its participants. The idea behind the scheme is that people partake in group discussions, with an element of peer education, around issues relating to road safety. Feedback collected from participants strongly indicates that the scheme has a positive impact on both their behaviour and road safety knowledge.

Infrastructure

One of the main areas of focus for Finland has been, and will continue to be, the development of road infrastructure which facilitates and allows for vehicle automation in coming years. Finland is in the forefront in preparing for and utilising automated traffic, and have long been analysing the benefits of this in areas such as Aurora, a five mile open road test area in the North of the country. Risko Kulmala – ITS-specialist at the Finnish Transport Agency, Liikennevirasto – tells us that they are using this stretch of road to test “vehicle positioning on roads covered with snow and ice, vehicle remote control in adverse conditions, and performance of slippery road sensors.”

Kulmala highlights the importance of these tests, indicating that “the setting up of the infrastructure for automated driving will largely depend on the results of the Aurora tests as well as the automotive industry.” While many variables are set to play a part in the time and costs associated with implementing automated traffic, the potential gains from this cannot be underestimated. Kulmala suggests that, “based on research results from EU projects, the safety gains from Level 1 automation (where the vehicle only assists the driver with steering and speed) are in the magnitude of -20% for road fatalities, and at least -80% for fully automated driving.”

Finland’s success so far and what the future holds

The effectiveness of Finland’s approach to road safety is evident, all you need to do is have a look at road traffic statistics from the past half century, and you’ll see an ongoing, positive trend. Since peaking in the early 1970s, road traffic injuries and fatalities in Finland have decreased by 52% and 75%3 respectively. This decline is the fruit of a long-lasting culture and determination to improve road safety.

However, while a positive trend is apparent, Mikko Karhunen, Senior Engineer at the Finnish Ministry of Transport and Communications, tells us that the country is planning to tackle road safety issues further in coming years. He indicates that the main points of emphasis will be to “improve the automatic enforcement of traffic rules, reduce drink and distracted driving related incidents and to prepare for the safe and trustworthy automisation of traffic.”

In order to further improve road safety in the UK, it could be worth thinking about the way in which this Nordic country has successfully made use of legislation, education and infrastructure in a bid to eventually reduce their road fatalities to naught.

Switzerland and their approach to road safety

As one of the best performing countries in terms of road safety, we investigate the approach Switzerland take to road safety.

Find out more

Campaigns: learnings from around the world

To find out what makes for a successful road safety campaign, we looked into the approach Finland, Sweden and Switzerland take.

Find out more

Additional Sources

[1]Global status report on road safety (2015) – WHO – [(Number of vehicles/100,000)/reported road traffic fatalities)]
[2]Traffic Education and Information Campaigns in Finland Report – Finnish Road Safety Council
[3]Finnish road statistics (2015) – Finnish Transport Agency

Back to top