In 2018, there were around 25 100 fatalities in road accidents in the EU 28. This is a decrease of 21% compared to 2010, and 1% compared to 2017. With an average of 49 road deaths per one million inhabitants, European roads are overall the safest in the world.
However, Latvia's fatality rate far exceeds that. Two EU member states recorded a fatality rate higher than 80 deaths per million inhabitants, against 7 in 2010. The countries with the highest fatality rate were Romania (96/million), Bulgaria (88/million), Latvia (78/million) and Croatia (77/million).
"Although Latvia has achieved an impressive 31% decrease since 2010, last year its road safety score deteriorated by 10% compared to 2017. With 78 deaths per million inhabitants, Latvia needs sustained efforts to reach the EU average," the European Commission said in response to the figures.
According to the figures of the Latvian State Police, in 2018 148 people died on Latvian roads, an increase on the figure for 2017 (136 deaths) but not as high as 2016's figure (157 deaths).
"There are several reasons for this," Normunds Krapsis, Chief of the Traffic Safety Department of the State Police told Latvian Radio on April 8. One of the main problems he sees is the poor road infrastructure, in Latvia is far behind even neighboring countries.
"Our neighbors are building roads where the opposite lanes are separated by a protective barrier to prevent these frontal collisions, but we are not doing so - either we cannot or do not want to, and just talk about doing it sometime in the future," said Krapsis.
"It is not a police issue, but an infrastructure issue and is one of the things that has a significant impact on traffic safety," he added.
In the wider context, fewer people died on European roads last year but more efforts are needed to make a big leap forward, according to new, preliminary figures on road fatalities for 2018 published today by the European Commission.
While the average decrease in the number of road deaths was only 1% for 2017-2018 for the EU as a whole, some countries made a lot of progress, such as Slovenia with a 13% drop, Lithuania with 11%, Bulgaria with 9% and Slovakia and Cyprus with 8%.
It is also important to note that the period 2010-2018, the biggest drop in the number of road deaths was reported by Greece (45%) and Lithuania (43%), followed by Portugal (35%) and Slovenia (34%).
Here there was a crumb of comfort for Latvia too, with road deaths having dropped by 31% over the eight-year period. Latvia is also among the countries with the smallest proportion of fatalities occurring in urban areas - fewer than 25% in fact, meaning that most fatalities take place outside built-up areas.
The EU-wide average decrease for the same period was 21%.
Despite their generally better roads, the situations in neighboring Estonia and Lithuania are contrasting. After years of impressive results, Estonia's fatality rate reached 51 deaths per million inhabitants in 2018, compared to just 36 in 2017, representing a 40% increase.
The road fatality rate in Lithuania improved by 11% in 2018 compared to the 2017 figure, sinking to 61 deaths per million inhabitants. However, this rate is still above the EU average.