Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has promised legal changes, as well extra financing for police and infrastructure, in order to improve the situation on Polish roads, which are among the most dangerous in the European Union.
“Pedestrian and driver safety will be a priority in the new term,” said Morawiecki, who is set to head a reformed government, in a video posted on his Facebook page.
The prime minister also appealed for special caution from those travelling by car over the current long November weekend, when large numbers of Poles take to the roads to visit family graves as part of the commemoration of All Saints’ Day.
Noting that last year 50 people died in car accidents over this period, Morawiecki emphasised that “change will not occur without engagement from all of us”.
There are 5,000 policemen involved this year in the annual “Vigil Light” operation, patrolling Poland’s roads over the weekend. This year on Thursday alone there were 75 car accidents, leaving four dead and 92 injured.
Poland has long had some of the EU’s most dangerous roads. According to the latest Eurostat data, it has the fifth-highest rate of road fatalities in proportion to the population among all member states, behind only Romania, Bulgaria, Latvia and Croatia. In terms of pedestrian fatalities, Poland has the third-highest rate.
The latter issue is one that has attracted particular recent attention. Earlier this year, a proposal to change the law to give pedestrians priority over cars at road crossings (as most European countries do) was controversially scrapped, because the interior ministry feared that many Polish drivers would simply ignore it, thereby leading to even more accidents.
Accidents at pedestrian crossings are increasing nonetheless, from around 3,300 in 2010 to just under 4,000 in 2018. Last year, 285 people were killed on pedestrian crossings, up from 259 a year earlier.
aut. Kreskonauta. pic.twitter.com/Wp42WtSz4q
— Piotr Wardziak (@gospoprostu) October 31, 2019
This week, a protest took place outside Warsaw city hall in response to the death of a man who, while crossing the street with a woman and a child in a pram, was hit by a driver travelling at 130 km/h (80 mph), almost triple the speed limit. “Stop the slaughter on the streets,” demanded the protesters, with a speaker noting that half of those killed on the roads of the capital are pedestrians.
Dziękujemy wszystkim którzy dziś przyszli na protest pod Ratuszem @warszawa ! Pokazaliśmy razem, że bezpieczeństwa na drogach nie pozwolimy traktować po macoszemu! Jest nas coraz więcej! #WizjaZero #ChodziOŻycie pic.twitter.com/FahPMXeabP
— Miasto Jest Nasze ??♻️ (@MiastoJestNasze) October 30, 2019
Monika Prończuk is the deputy editor of Notes from Poland. She was previously the Nico Colchester fellow at the Financial Times, acting FT Poland correspondent, and journalist at OKO.press, an independent fact-checking media outlet. Her articles have appeared in Quartz, Financial Times, Politico, Gazeta Wyborcza and Tygodnik Powszechny.