How Serbia’s roads are getting a safety boost with the backing of multilateral development banks, as they improve links around the Western Balkans
As the threat of COVID-19 recedes, another silent epidemic continues to take 1.3 million lives every year and cause 50 million injuries. Road deaths and injuries have been declared a crisis of epidemic proportions by the World Health Organization.
And the Western Balkans continues to record a much higher ratio of road-related deaths and serious injuries than the European Union.
“In 2022, road fatalities claimed almost 1 300 lives in the Western Balkans,” said European Investment Bank Vice-President Kris Peeters during his opening address at the regional road safety conference Vision Zero for the Balkans held in Serbia in May.
“We need to take decisive action to prevent this immense loss of life and economic output,” Peeters said. “Through the European Investment Bank’s Transport Lending Policy, we are committed to prioritising projects and activities that help accelerate the safe and sustainable transport systems of tomorrow.”
At the event, prominent international experts underlined Serbia’s progress in road safety, where the number of fatalities has decreased by 27% between 2011 and 2021. However, the country continues to record a higher proportion of road traffic deaths per 100 000 inhabitants than the EU average (7.5 in Serbia compared to 5.1 in the European Union).
“In this regard, we encourage policy makers in Serbia to improve traffic safety in urban areas, introduce stricter speed controls, focus on road defects that can lead to serious and fatal injuries,” Mariyasin said, “and to consider how to use advanced technology for the sake of traffic safety.”
Towards Vision Zero
Seeking to reduce deaths and serious injuries by 50% by 2030, the European Union has adopted a road safety policy for 2021 to 2030, with the further aim of achieving zero road deaths by 2050.
“The traffic system as a whole – our roads, vehicles, signaling systems – should be designed in such a way that road users are not distracted or tempted,” Eenink said, “so that they do not need to deal with complicated situations where it is easy to make a mistake and, when an accident is inevitable, that they are protected from serious injury.”
Though they have publicly supported the approach, there is still a long road ahead to implementing the necessary strategies, legislation and investments.
In Serbia, high toll of traffic accidents needs to be halved
In 2022, 553 people died in road crashes across Serbia, while 30 000 lives were lost over the last 30 years. This is the size of a small town in the country.
The Serbian Government is undertaking measures to prevent road traffic mortality, with a particular focus on curbing inappropriate speeds and the failure to use a seatbelt, which are the leading causes in Serbia. The country’s new national traffic safety strategy aims to cut deaths by 50% compared to 2019.
“Losses of life, human capital and infrastructure represent a huge cost to communities. Vision zero must become a priority for all of us, which means that no loss of life or serious injury in traffic is acceptable,” said Branko Stamatović, acting director of Serbia’s Traffic Safety Agency.
Along with building new road networks, the rehabilitation of existing roads to safer and more sustainable standards will require massive investment. In the European Union alone, a European Investment Bank study identified €21 billion in safety investment needed over 10 years to increase the engineering standards of the least-safe roads and save up to 7 200 lives.
The European Investment Bank has a long track record in the sector, with annual investments of around €11.6 billion going to transport. In the Western Balkans, the Bank has supported close to €6 billion of transport investment to date. Financing is often complemented by grants and advisory support for the preparation and implementation of high-quality projects that promote safety, accessibility, and sustainability.
Major financier of transportation projects in the Western Balkans
EIB Global, the dedicated branch of the European Investment Bank for activities outside the European Union is already supporting the rehabilitation of and safety improvements to hundreds of kilometres of the national road network in Serbia, including through major road safety investments.
In 2022, EIB Global signed €666 million of new projects in Serbia, of which €581 million was for sustainable transport, such as waterways and railway routes.
Along with the reconstruction of existing roads, EIB Global is supporting the development of new road sections with the highest safety standards. Currently, the Highway of Peace connecting Serbia with the Adriatic coast of Albania is being built thanks to a €100 million EIB loan and a €40 million EU grant. This flagship project under the Economic and Investment Plan consists of the construction of 32 km of highway to link Niš and Merdare. The new road will facilitate regional cohesion and cut accidents by 16%.
Gordana Kovacevic works as the EIB Media Consultant for the Western Balkans. She likes to tell inspirational stories about the projects that make valuable impact on our lives, and design creative communication concepts.
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