Who is behind the wheel? The causes of accidents that result in victims

According to the latest statistics from INSTAT, the number of accidents in the month of February this year was 88. This number has increased by 14.3% compared to February 2022. The cause of road accidents, in 81.8% of cases, has been the drivers themselves, helped by a system of corrupt license issuance as well as problems in the management of the roads themselves.

Author: Uendi Biba

“The vehicle was in motion when it was hit by another vehicle. Fortunately, I didn’t suffer any physical injuries, but it left a psychological impact,” recalls Esmir Lica, the director of “Lica” driving school, about his involvement in an accident. “Nowadays, we are witnessing many road accidents,” Mr. Lica continues, adding that, in his opinion, the main cause for these accidents is the violation of traffic rules and a lack of knowledge of traffic signals.

The terrifying experience of an accident, in one way or another, has been experienced by all Albanian citizens. Some have been directly involved, while others have witnessed it happening or after it occurred. According to the latest statistics from INSTAT, the number of fatal accidents in the month of February this year was 88 accidents. This number has increased by 14.3% compared to February 2022. The cause of road accidents, in 81.8% of cases, has been the drivers themselves.

Hundreds of lives lost and thousands injured.

According to an official response from the State Police, the number of lives lost in road accidents is in the dozens every year. In 2017, 222 citizens lost their lives, while 363 others were seriously injured. A year later, these numbers would see a slight decrease, with 213 citizens losing their lives and 312 being seriously injured. However, in 2019, the number of victims increased, reaching 227 deaths and 260 seriously injured. In 2020, there was increased attention from the Traffic Police due to movement restrictions caused by the pandemic, resulting in a significant decline in the number of lives lost and seriously injured in accidents. In 2020, only 181 citizens lost their lives, while 183 others were seriously injured. A year later, the accident victims were 197, and the seriously injured were 250. In the return to a normal situation without pandemic restrictions, where drivers could freely circulate again, the number of lives lost in accidents decreased, with 164 recorded fatalities and 211 injured.

In response to an official inquiry about the measures taken by the State Police to reduce the number of accidents, the latter states that they have intensified the monitoring of road segment, conducted checks, and identified traffic violators using intelligent tools such as smart vehicles, drones, alcohol and drug testing devices. “The use of automated radars and unmarked vehicles, which the Traffic Police already have at their disposal, as well as the implementation of a strategy that will remove the police officer from the road and increase the presence of mobile logistics.”, state police emphasize the use of technology to reduce accidents and ensure normal traffic flow on the country’s roas.

Expert: Not only changes to the road code, but also awareness raising is necessary

Islam Qibini, a road safety expert, in an interview with ACQJ, identifies several causes that lead to road accidents. “The primary reasons for accidents are increased vehicle traffic on major roads, excessive speed, non-compliance with traffic rules by drivers, and non-compliance with norms by pedestrians,” he says. Mr. Qibini further adds that non-compliance with traffic rules also occurs among pedestrians, who, according to him, account for 13.7% of accident causes according to conducted analyses.

The changes in the road code are welcomed by the road safety expert, considering them necessary. “The adoption of provisions in the Road Code allowing new drivers to operate vehicles with 1500cc engines in the first 2 years was essential,” he says, emphasizing that the changes should also be supported by the implementation of technological devices on 200 km of major roads. According to him, public awareness plays an important role in reducing the number of road accidents. “Society, families, as well as institutional cooperation in the education of every driver regarding vehicle operation and rules, thus involving all actors, will contribute to the safety of citizens,” he concludes.

Who is behind the wheel?

Driving schools are a necessary step in obtaining a driver’s license. Tonin Gjinaj, the director of ERALB driving school and the general secretary of the National Driving Schools Association, expresses concern about a “very careless” youth. “Even in the classroom, if we go there, you can see two or three students playing with their cell phones. In every session, we talk and only talk, not about drugs, not about alcohol, and certainly not about cell phone use. These are premises for accidents,” he says, adding that cell phones have become a major concern for vehicle users lately.

Meanwhile, one factor that influences accidents is the road itself. No one can assess the road problems better than a driving school. “You can go from Casa Italia to Vora. There’s a pothole in the middle of the turn, about 35-40 cm deep. Imagine a driver who doesn’t know the road. If the car falls into the pothole, the front tire will burst, and an accident is likely to happen,” says Mr. Gjinaj, adding that despite the appeals he has made to the relevant authorities and the media, nothing has changed. Among the problems highlighted by driving school instructors is the road signage. “The placement of signs is random, not to mention the construction of some roads that are just for the sake of being a road, like the National Road, which doesn’t provide any safety to stay on the road,” he concludes.

Concerning the issues with road segments, the Albanian Center for Quality Journalism approached the Albanian Road Authority to inquire about what are considered “black spots” in the country’s road network. According to the response provided, from 2018 to 2020, 105 “black spots” were identified in the Albanian road network. ACQJ was able to identify “black spots” within the two largest cities in Albania, Durrës and Tirana, with 76 and 26 spots, respectively.

Another problem noticed by driving schools is the presence of informality and corruption in the sector, especially in driving schools that prepare bus drivers, who have recently become major news headlines due to frequent accidents.

“Buses are concentrated in 3-4 driving schools. How is it possible that I have had a license for over 20 years and I don’t have more than 30-40 candidates for buses, while the driving schools in Kamëz have 430 candidates per year?” says Mr. Gjinaj, expressing concern about the abuses. “All driving schools collect them, give 50,000 ALL to one or two driving schools, and they abuse the preparation. They don’t prepare them,” Mr. Gjinaj states, adding that unfair competition is a factor that impacts the quality of driving schools but also causes significant damage to the state’s treasury. According to Gjinaj, in Albanian driving schools, driving licenses are declared at prices ranging from 20,000 ALL to 40-50,000 ALL. “These figures I’m mentioning have been declared to the Tax Directorate,” he reveals, pointing the finger at the state, which in his opinion, has not played its role in this market. “The state has not only been inactive for 25 years but has massacred this business. The revenues that should have been deposited in the state treasury are missing. Thanks to the abuse, they have entered the pockets of tax evaders and the corrupt, whether in the Tax Directorate or in the state administration, but they are missing from the state treasury,” says the General Secretary of the National Driving Schools Association in an interview with ACQJ.

In Albania, it takes 6 hours of practical training to obtain a driving license, while in France, it takes 20 hours

Albania is today one of the few countries not only in the region but also in Europe where only 6 hours of practical training are required to obtain a driving license. In France, for example, a candidate who obtains a driving license for the first time must complete 20 hours of practical training before taking the road test. On the other hand, Germany has one of the most rigorous processes for driving licenses, with 14 theoretical lessons, each lasting about 90 minutes, covering topics such as vehicle driving safety, road signs, and traffic regulations. Moreover, learners must complete at least 12 lessons, each lasting 45 minutes, under the guidance of a licensed instructor. The practical training covers a wide range of scenarios and maneuvers, such as parallel parking, lane changing, and overtaking.

In Montenegro, drivers are required to complete 30 hours of practical training, where they learn driving skills, traffic rules, and vehicle maintenance. Similarly, in Serbia, the process of obtaining a driving license is divided into 40 theoretical classes and 40 practical lessons of 45 minutes each, providing comprehensive training in driving techniques and road safety.

With the increase in the number of vehicles on the roads, the number of accidents also increases. According to a report by the World Health Organization (WHO), road traffic accidents are a major public health concern, causing 1.3 million deaths worldwide every year.

One of the countries that is striving to improve road safety statistics is North Macedonia. According to data from the World Bank, the country has seen a decrease in the number of road traffic deaths per 100,000 population from 8.2 in 2000 to 5.1 in 2019.

Meanwhile, our country, which faces a high number of road traffic accidents, lacks a long-term strategy to reduce the number of road fatalities. This is evident whenever the situation worsens on the roads, leading to changes in the traffic code, with the hope that they will serve to minimize the number of victims.

*This article is part of the project Investigative Journalism Lab that is financially supported by the Public Relations Office of the US Embassy in Tirana. The opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent those of the Department of State.
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