Drunken driving and speeding cause hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries every year in the region, and prevention efforts need to be strengthened.
By Drazen Remikovic for Southeast European Times in Podgorica -- 24/10/12
An accident in Tuzla in mid-October highlighted measures to ensure safe-driving practices. [Drazen Remikovic/SETimes]
Traffic police throughout the region have tightened the enforcement of traffic laws, but accidents continue to claim lives, prompting governments and civil society to take further action.
Four died in a traffic accident in Tuzla, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) last week, just days after a similar accident in Podgorica, Montenegro, claimed the lives of four victims in their 20s on October 9th.
Montenegrin police said that driving under the influence of alcohol is the most common cause of accidents.
"Every month, we arrest over 300 people for drunk driving in Podgorica. We take them in police custody until they get sober, usually within eight hours," Ilija Janjusevic, chief of the Podgorica traffic police, told SETimes.
Janjusevic said police also confiscate 800 driving licenses monthly and will sanction speeding with fines of up to 2,000 euros under a new traffic law which will come in force in January.
Fifty-eight people died in car accidents in Montenegro, and 2,075 were severely injured in 2011. In BiH, 375 people died and 10,000 were severely injured, while the number of people killed in car accidents in Croatia was even higher -- 415.
"Most young people drive like crazy, especially when returning home from late night entertainment in downtown. They get drunk and then drive," according to Enver Neimani, 34, a taxi driver in Podgorica.
Neimani said it is particularly dangerous when intoxicated youths race one another. He is spreading the message among young customers to use taxis and even offers free rides home.
"I have personally driven hundreds of drunken young men to their homes and did not charge for the ride," Neimani added.
According to data from Serbian police, 442 persons lost their lives this year, while about 12,000 were seriously injured.
"The main problem ... are drivers' attitudes in this matter and their belief that drunk driving is not dangerous," Damir Okanovic, president of Serbia's Committee for Traffic Safety, an NGO which deals with safety on the roads, told SETimes.
"Control by the police is the last measure providing security and we can not call it prevention. Prevention includes education about traffic. A traffic safety system that depends only on the police check is not really a system, but controlled chaos," Okanovic added.
For this reason accidents continue to happen daily even though police do their job and have tightened sanctions, according to Drazen Blazic, president of the Anita Fetic Foundation, an NGO named after a girl who died in 2009 in a car accident that focuses on traffic safety in Podgorica.
To address the problem, the foundation has undertaken a campaign of putting up huge "Slow Down -- so you can be next to me again" signs at critical traffic junctures.
"We wanted to put such emotional messages to attract drivers' attention to be careful. It is producing results but unfortunately, people are still getting killed," Blazic told SETimes.
"While the police does what it can, everyone must be involved in accident prevention -- education [institutions], transportation schools, parents," Janjusevic said.