Home » Car accidents in Europe

Car accidents in Europe

What’s the Situation with Fatal Car Accidents in Europe and the Positive Look into Europe’s data – The Example of Greece

Open in new window

Joule Group 1

6 de julho de 2023


The 1968 Vienna Convention on Road Traffic defines a fatal road accident as an accident in which a person died of their injuries at the scene or within thirty days. This definition has been adopted across most EU countries.

Accidents across Europe

The European Commission published preliminary figures on road fatalities for 2022. Around 20,600 people were killed in road crashes in 2022, a 3% increase on 2021 as traffic levels recovered after the pandemic. This represents however 2,000 fewer fatalities (-10%) compared with the pre-pandemic year 2019. The EU and UN target is to halve the number of road deaths by 2030. Taking this into account we can make a comparison between the car accidents in European countries and more specifically we want to know the reasons why there are more car accidents in rural areas than in urban areas.

To give some contrasting trends across Member States, EU-wide, road deaths in 2022 rose by 3% on the previous year, not least as traffic levels recovered levels following the pandemic. Importantly, many of the gains achieved during the COVID-19 period (including a fall of 17% between 2019 and 2020) have not been lost. Compared with 2019, the number of deaths in 2022 fell by 10%.

Casualties on the road – Chart race

Europe – car accidents per country over time

According to the data found in Eurostat, road fatalities per million population in Europe is decreasing, but looking closely at each country it seems like some are improving more than others. Starting in 1991, Latvia, Portugal,  and Lithuania had the highest numbers in road fatalities per million population with 375, 323, and 317 respectively. These countries had a decrease in 2022 of 79%, 83% and 83%. However, the country with the highest percentage decrease is Estonia with 87%. Spain follows, with an 86% decrease in road fatalities per million population in the same period. On the other hand Romania and Bulgaria (37%) have the lowest percentage of decrease (source: Eurostat). Still, the improvement is significant: 32% for Romania and 37% for Bulgaria.

From another point of view, there is not much visible variation in nordic countries in comparison with other european countries. This is because they already started with a small number of deaths in 1991 and nowadays the figure is pretty low. To make a special mention, although Malta has one of the lowest percentages of decrease of the European countries, it is the country with the lowest amount of deaths since 1991. In 2021 Malta only had 17 deaths per million, two deaths less than Norway in the same year. These figures would be justified taking into account that Malta is a small island.

All in all, we see that the trend in European countries is for a decrease in the number of traffic accidents.

Fatalities can be broken down per group, in order to better understand the impacts. 52% of deaths occur in rural roads, 40% in urban areas and 8% on motorways.

Casualties per type of road

Overall, car occupants account for 47% of all road deaths, pedestrians 22%, motorbikes 20% and cyclists 11% of total fatalities. If we consider just urban roads, there is a “transfer” of casualties from occupants (down to 31%) to pedestrians (up to 37%).

Group of persons killed, overall and in urban roads

Men account for 77% of road deaths.

Deaths by gender

Regarding age, even though ages 0-24 account for only 17% of the deaths, because this is the smallest age group, in fact it is the group with the highest likelihood of getting killed on the road.

Deaths by age group

Data from 2016 estimates that for every fatality on Europe’s roads, 4 people become permanently disabled, 10 suffer from brain or spinal cord damage, 10 will be seriously injured and 40 will have sustained minor injuries.

The annual cost to society of road accidents in Europe is estimated to be €130 billion.

The main cause for accidents is speed, this is followed by other issues such as driving whilst under the influence of alcohol or drugs, being distracted at the wheel by mobile devices, in-car radios or personal navigation devices.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has analyzed some of the most relevant risks while driving. For example, investigating about speed most car-to-car side accidents are proven to happen at 65 km/h. Another conclusion is that alcohol and other psychoactive substances increase five times the risk of having a traffic accident. Distractions such as mobile phones could increase it four times.

Related with rural versus urban areas, WHO looked for other causes that are not 100% related with what drivers do but with road maintenance, traffic laws or inadequate post-crash care. So, except for traffic laws, road maintenance and inadequate post-crash care is directly related to accidents in rural areas, where roads are in a poorly maintained condition and health services have trouble reaching the places, either because they are farther away from hospitals or because some rural areas are difficult to access.

The European Union countries are concerned about traffic accidents, so in 2018 they set themselves to reach a 50% decrease in traffic accidents for 2030. To reach this goal, they created some measures for it, just like they are doing with the Commission’s  Strategic Action Plan on Road Safety  and  EU road safety policy framework 2021-2030  which also lays out road safety plans aiming to reach zero road deaths by 2050 (‘Vision Zero’).

With these two strategies, they bear in mind all the road risks we mentioned before, aiming for better infrastructure and vehicles, considering also the problems with drugs and distractions such as mobile phones.

In addition, european countries are including Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy so they take into account the new ways of moving. These new technologies will be a huge benefit for people, making driving safer.

It seems that this effort is having a positive result; if we look at the EU road safety webpage, we see that even though the car users’ numbers are rising, the traffic accidents are decreasing.

The sittuation in Greece

Greece has been one of the countries with the highest number of car accidents for years. According to data from the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT), in 2021, there were 584 fatal car accidents and 9,870 non-fatal car accidents in the country. This shows a slight increase compared to the previous year, when 552 fatal accidents and 8,531 non-fatal accidents occurred. Interestingly, despite the imposed lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there was no significant decrease in car accidents in 2020 as in 2019 there were 656 fatal accidents and 10,056 non-fatal accidents.

Taking a broader perspective, there is an optimistic trend indicating an improvement in the situation in Greece over the years, at a slow but steady pace. The earliest available data is from 2000 when there were 1,803 fatal accidents and 21,198 non-fatal accidents. By 2010, just after a decade, the number of fatal accidents had dropped to 1,142, and non-fatal accidents decreased to 13,890. The graph below illustrates the evolution of the situation in Greece:

Fatal car accidents in Greece

When examining the reasons behind this decrease, it is difficult to identify a specific pattern. For example, the age of the country’s vehicle fleet does not seem to have a significant impact on the number of car accidents. While the average age of the country’s vehicle fleet is increasing throughout the years, likely due to the financial crisis the country experienced and its impacts, there has not been a corresponding increase in car accidents as one might have expected. According to the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA), the average age of Greece’s vehicle fleet was 13.5 years in 2015. This number increased to 15.4 years in 2017, according to the Greek Association of Importing Car Dealers. As of 2023, ACEA suggests that Greece has the oldest car fleet among all EU countries, with an average age of 17 years, while the EU average is only 12 years.

Alcohol has been considered a major factor in car accidents. Despite that, in the case of Greece, there does not seem to be a clear correlation between alcohol consumption and car accidents. Based on data provided by ELSTAT, drivers that are involved in car accidents have consumed amounts of alcohol that are within the permissible limits. 

This leads us to consider the case of road safety and infrastructure as a potential reason for the high occurrence of car accidents in Greece, as well as their decrease over the years. According to data from ELSTAT between 2000 and 2021, more car accidents occurred on municipal and provincial roads than on highways and motorways. This is likely because municipal and provincial roads are not as well-designed and maintained.

Car accidents per type of road, 2021

What is interesting though is that throughout the years  there has been a clear decrease in car accidents on motorways and highways. This is likely due to the construction of new, well-designed motorways such as Ionia, Egnatia, and Olympia. These new roads gradually replaced the country’s older roads in the 2010s, potentially contributing to the reduction in car accidents.

Car accidents per type of road, 2000

Greece showcases the impact that well designed and maintained, safe roads can have on the decrease of car accidents and in the improvement of road safety.

By addressing the limitations that were one of the main causes of accidents, Greece managed to already obtain significant improvements. Other european countries have also been addressing their specific problems and working on improving road security, so that the outlook today is a lot better than what one could expect 30 or even 10 years ago.


Road safety: what progress has been made?
https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/road-traffic-injuries Road safety in Europe - Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vienna_Convention_on_Road_Traffic https://www.acea.auto/figure/average-age-of-eu-vehicle-fleet-by-country/ https://www.kathimerini.gr/economy/local/968321/metaxy-14-kai-18-eton-ena-sta-3-i-ch-poy-kykloforoyn-stin-ellada/ https://www.statistics.gr/el/statistics/-/publication/SDT04/- https://el.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ιόνια_Οδός https://el.wikipedia.org/wiki/Εγνατία_Οδός https://el.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ολυμπία_Οδός