Poland launches program to reduce traffic deaths

CORRECTS HEADER - Cars drive past a multi-level intersection in Warsaw, Poland, Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013.  Poland is launching Wednesday a government program to reduce traffic fatalities and improve its horrible road safety record. In 2011, Poland had Europe’s worst road safety statistics, with 110 deaths per 1 million citizens, or almost 4,200 people killed, and one in five road deaths in all of Europe happened in Poland. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz) Enlargephoto

CORRECTS HEADER - Cars drive past a multi-level intersection in Warsaw, Poland, Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013. Poland is launching Wednesday a government program to reduce traffic fatalities and improve its horrible road safety record. In 2011, Poland had Europe’s worst road safety statistics, with 110 deaths per 1 million citizens, or almost 4,200 people killed, and one in five road deaths in all of Europe happened in Poland. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz)

Poland will upgrade its roads, improve law enforcement and take other steps as part of a new government program designed to improve the country's miserable road safety record.

In 2011, Poland had Europe's worst road safety statistics, with 110 deaths per 1 million citizens, or almost 4,200 people killed, Interior Minister Jacek Cichocki said Wednesday.

Europe's death average from traffic accidents was 60 per million people, while Britain is safest with 32. In the United States, Census Bureau figures for 2009 show 11 fatalities per 100,000 residents.

Traffic accidents cost Poland about $6.5 billion in 2012, including medical costs, pensions for families of victims and lost workers. Transport Minister Slawomir Nowak said the figure was "shocking" and "brutal," but illustrated well the scale of losses in the nation of 38 million.

The new government program is due to be implemented later this year. It aims to toughen the country's driving regulations, upgrade roads and increase the penalties for speeding to raise road safety to European Union standards.

About 43 percent of accidents in Poland are caused by speeding, according to government figures. Car crashes are the most frequent cause of deaths of young people between the ages of 18 and 25 in Poland.

The government wants to cut the number of deaths in half and the number of seriously injured by 40 percent by 2020.

About 500 million zlotys ($160 million) will be invested in road renovations this year. The country's road sign system will be improved and police controls stepped up, including using cameras to catch speeders.

The announcement came days after a journalist received a three-year prison term -subject to appeal -for causing the death of a colleague when he speeded and crashed a borrowed Ferrari in Warsaw in 2008. Many Poles believe that punishment was too lenient. Footage of the burning Ferrari aired on all news TV stations in Poland last week.

While traffic has rapidly increased in recent years, Poland has been slow to build highways and widen its narrow roads, a legacy of decades of communism, which did not encourage travel. The number of private cars has increased rapidly, with many households having at least two cars.

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