Although Belgium is not exactly a big country, its drivers are among the EU’s most reckless. One explanation could be the notorious “priorité de droite” which literally means giving way to anyone approaching from the right, yet the Belgian meaning refers to the entitlement of drivers to enter from the right, without looking, hesitating or even glancing at the other direction.
The other explanation dates back into Belgium’s driving history.
Many of the Belgians citizens learnt to drive during the WWII without any theoretical or practical formalities, making driving (either on a lorry or on a motor) a knowledge passing from one generation to another.
This changed in the early 1960’s as Belgium officially introduced driving written tests. Beforehand, every Belgian citizen wishing to get a driving license had to fulfil only two requirements: 1) being 18 or older; 2) pass a written examination.
Driving an actual car was only included in the format years later.
This brief history shaped the driving culture of Belgians which results can be seen in anationwide survey conducted in 2011 by the Belgian Institute for Road Safety (IBSR). According to the survey: only 1 in 10 Belgian drivers respects the speed limit; 93% of drivers admitted to breaking the 30 Kmh speed limit around safe areas such as schools, and other 40% of drivers admitted to going above the maximum 120 Kmh limit on highways.
The picture becomes even grimmer when looking further into the attitudes of Belgian drivers towards driving under the influence of alcohol.
The Social Attitudes to Road Traffic Risk in Europe (SARTRE) latest study, SARTRE 4, carried out in 2010 in 19 European countries shows that Belgium has one of the highest rate of drivers (17.5%) who believe they can drink and drive if they are careful.
Moreover, while 77% of Belgian drivers understand they should not drink any alcohol at all when driving, 26% of surveyed drivers admit to have gone over the legal alcohol limit at least occasionally in the previous month.
These findings put in proportion Polish drivers who have obtained a dubious reputation when it comes to drinking-and-driving.
Results from SARTRE 4 demonstrate that in Poland 98% of drivers report not to have gone over the legal alcohol limit. Furthermore, Poland has one of the highest rates of drivers (92%) who to object drinking-and-driving. Only 5.4% of Polish drivers believe they can drive under the influence if they are careful.
Overall, Belgium ranks 20th among EU member states in terms of road deaths. The fact that the Belgian roads are safer than those of Latvia and Bulgaria is not a real source of joy or pride, more of a pressing warning sign to Belgium’s law enforcement.
More enforcement of road safety, prosecution of driving infractions and also rehabilitation and education of convicted drivers might prove to be a way to prevent the unnecessary loss of life, while also calming down the fears of foreign visitors to taking the Belgians roads.
Greeting from the European Parliament,
Lidia Geringer de Oedenberg
Link to the 2011 survey conducted by the Belgian Institute for Road Safety (IBSR)
Link to the SARTRE 4 Study