People who change the reality

Most of you know that I am very passionate about connected cars and road safety. Recently, while preparing my presentation about #System_EYE to one of the governmental officials, I had a chance to read a report related to road safety conducted for Netherlands. In fact the document was much broader and covered most of European countries. I found interesting the approach and details that I’ve never seen before in this space: every number of precise. Knowing how it is really tough to get some real (and finalized) figures from the government, I became curious to know the author personally. And that was my great surprise that Wim Wijnen, one of the authors for report for EU said that he would love to talk and he really likes what we are doing @Discoperi.

Below is a bit of a short discussion (can be fairly called an interview) with Wim. Hope you would enjoy it and some may rely to the work they have been done: “The cost of road crashes in the Netherlands”.


Alex: “Wim, thanks so much for your time for having this interview today. Here are few questions we prepared for you. Please tell me briefly about your work for SafetyCube and W2Economics”.

Wim Wijnen: “W2Economics is an independent research/consultancy office specializing in the economic analysis of road safety, which I founded in 2012. We aim to help reduce the number of road casualties and improve quality of life by providing high-quality economic research, consultancy and education. Our projects concentrate on socio-economic costs of road crashes, economic assessment of road safety measures/programs, financing road safety improvements, etc. We conduct economic projects for international organizations, national governments, NGOs, companies and other road safety stakeholders in all parts of the world. SafetyCube is a European project aimed at developing an innovative road safety Decision Support System (DSS). It is funded by the European Commission within the Horizon 2020 program. The DSS enables policy makers and stakeholders to select and implement the most appropriate strategies, measures and cost-effective approaches to reduce casualties. I am involved in SafetyCube as a primary researcher on economic topics, in particular an analysis of the socio-economic costs of road crashes in Europe and the development of a tool for assessing the costs and benefits of road safety measures”.

Alex: “Tell me about your contribution to InDev project”.

Wim Wijnen: “In the SafetyCube project we collaborated with the InDeV project for the assessment of road crash costs. The main objective of the InDeV project is to contribute to the improvement of vulnerable road users’ (VRU) safety in Europe. An integrated methodology, compiled in a toolbox, for understanding accident causes for VRUs is developed, as well as a framework for assessing the socio-economic costs related to road-accidents involving VRUs. Concerning crash costing SafetyCube and InDeV joined forces, for example by designing a common survey and collecting data jointly”.

Alex: “How your work was different from all the previous efforts conducted by many other countries”?

Wim Wijnen: “The SafetyCube assessment is the most comprehensive international review of road crash costs that has been made so far. Detailed information on crash costs was collected for 31 European countries, both concerning the cost levels and the methods used in each country. Previous studies included fewer countries and do not provide so much detail. Also, an extra step was taken in our study: we produced standardized European cost figures, based on best practices in Europe. These values can used by countries that do not have information on the costs of crashes in their country, or do not have figures of good quality. Some countries have already replaced their original cost figures by the figures we developed in this project”.

Alex: “Which are the most interesting insights you found during SafetyCube project?”

Wim Wijnen: “The SafetyCube cost study shows that the socio-economic burden of road crashes is enormous: 500 billion in Europe, which corresponds to 3% of GDP. We also saw that the costs of road crashes differ widely between countries, from 0.4 to 4.1% of GDP. This is mainly explained by different in the methods that each country uses. Therefore, we developed a framework for estimating crash costs according to international standards and best practices, which can serve as a guidance for new cost studies”.

Alex: “What was the main difficulty in this report’s preparation?”

Wim Wijnen: “We developed a quite detailed questionnaire to collect in-depth information about road crash costs. The great challenge to receive response from as many countries as possible, and we were fortunate to receive a response from 31 EU countries out the 32 that we contacted. The trick for this success was that we first analyzed the information that was available in each country, and provided by country experts, ourselves. Then we filled in the questionnaire as much as possible and the data was checked and completed by the respondents”.

Alex”: “The cost of traffic accidents is usually hard to be estimated. How to make governments believe that they are responsible not only for direct costs (e.g. infrastructure damage, police patrol trips, etc.), but also for indirect costs (e.g. moral damage of witnesses, lack of productivity caused by extra traffic, etc.)”?

Wim Wijnen: “Sure, estimating costs is not easy, especially when it comes to indirect and intangible costs. However, economists have developed sound methods to make estimates of all relevant costs. In general, governments are aware that they have a responsibility not only for the costs they bear themselves, but also for road safety in general and thus for the costs road crashes impose on the people and organizations in their country. It is important for governmental to be aware of all costs, so they know the costs the society will save by preventing road trauma. Furthermore, they can try to involve stakeholders who bear costs, for example insurance companies, in improving road safety”.

Alex: “In your opinion is the level of governmental involvement into the problem has changed over the last five-seven years?”

Wim Wijnen: “In the past, information on the socio-economic burden of road trauma was mainly developed and used by high-income countries. But nowadays also low and middle income countries are interested in these figures, following the examples of other countries. They are aware that cost information can help them to raise awareness for the (economic) impact of road crashes and potential cost savings, and to find cost-effective prevention strategies to improve road safety”.

Alex: “After the analysis conducted, do you have now a clear view on what may be a potential solution of road accidents problem?”

Wim Wijnen: “Road safety can only be improved by a holistic approach that concentrates all aspects related to crashes, including infrastructure, vehicles, human factors and road safety management. This ‘Safe System approach’ is adopted by countries that are the frontrunners in the field of road safety. The SafetyCube project shows that reducing the number of road casualties yields huge socio-economic benefits, and costs-benefit analyses of countermeasures show that these benefits are often much higher than the costs. For example, the benefits of the implementation of a Safe System in the Netherlands were found to be four times higher than the costs”.

Alex: “Do you think an approach of inside-out monitoring (one vehicle can monitor constantly hundreds of other vehicles) together with vehicle connectivity feature can make some difference here”?

Wim Wijnen: “I believe that these technological developments (reference to #System_EYE – author) can generate a significant contribution to improving road safety, and they are a very important element of the Safe System approach. We all know that road users have their limitations, e.g. in recognizing risky situations, and that they make mistakes, and these systems can definitely help them to avoid crashes”.

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