WEEKEND: digesting the week’s news, on the road safety ‘crisis’ in France, the seemingly unending queues at the Spanish frontier in Gibraltar and four of the best from Mille Miglia 2014. Finally, good news: Romania’s Transfagarasan road will open for much longer in future.
France has not suddenly become a dangerous place to drive. By European standards it remains exactly average. But the French road safety strategy is not working as new figures, released on Thursday evening, confirm. The question is how will the authorities respond?
One crumb of comfort is that their fundamental assertion that speeding is a significant cause of accidents is clearly correct. The dramatic falls in fatalities immediately after the introduction of unmarked police camera cars last March proves that. But driver’s fears quickly evaporated. By the start of this year the number of road deaths were starting to rise again and – entirely predictably – increased significantly for the last two months.
Absent a new dastardly method of controlling speeding, the answer in France will undoubtedly be increased traffic police presence. That’s already been announced for the Ascension and Pentecost holiday weekends at the end of May/beginning of June.
An awful lot depends on this month’s accident stats. The camera cars saw fatalities drop by 29.5% in May 2013. The French media has so far ignored March and April’s steep rises but if the figures show a near 30% jump this month, as looks increasingly possible, will they continue to be so understanding?
The queue misery at the Spanish frontier in Gibraltar goes on, and on, and on. The ever present threat of hour’s long delays must be truly debilitating for those living and working in the area though, interestingly, a spokesman for the Gibraltar government told us on Thursday that everybody now keeps an eye on the @RGPolice twitter feed, and border webcam, and nips across when it’s quiet. Life goes on.
There’s no way to check the relatively recent phenomenon of long delays on the Spanish side unfortunately which, we’re told, have averaged an hour every day for the last fortnight.
This week saw the end of the European Commission’s six month deadline for improvements to the border flow. The Spanish authorities left it until the last minute to reveal a €5m overhaul of their traffic lanes, to be implemented by the end of this year. Bearing in mind how the Spanish have dragged their feet so far the announcement was greeted with a hefty degree of scepticism in Gibraltar and the UK.
Meanwhile, the big initiative on the Gibraltar side is a consultation on joining the EU’s borderless Schengen Zone. Taken completely by surprise, the official opposition was slow to respond but the argument is now starting to rage. As a way to get the EU firmly on side, and to circumvent the border queues, the Schengen idea is inspired, and it has the support of the British government. Whether it can or will work is another question.
Much, much better news is that Romania’s flagship mountain road Transfagarasan will open for up to nine months a year, from three months currently. It might take a few years but by then Transfag should also be joined seamlessly with the wider European motorway network. Annual fortnight jaunts to the deep Balkans will be easily achievable.
It’s been a good week all round for Balkan roads – notwithstanding the once-a-century flooding in Bosnia, Serbia and now Croatia too – with fresh impetus for the rest of Romania’s much needed motorway ‘network’ and a date finally set to start work on completing the east-west Hemus Highway in Bulgaria.
Most exciting – almost too, too exciting – is news from Serbia that the Belgrade-Adriatic motorway will be ready in four years. Whizzing down to the sea through the Montenegrin mountains while we’re still – almost – young enough to enjoy it? Yes please!
There hasn’t been so much good news in Italy however. The Pordoi Pass in the High Dolomites re-opened quite quickly but the poor old Gardena Pass, down to the A22 Brennero motorway at Barbiano, is still shut following over 1,000 lightning strikes last Sunday..
The Weekly News Digest is a small selection of the stories on @DriveEurope this week. See our Daily Brief blogs for more.