Deciding to challenge my Italian language skills beyond their limits and seeing the opportunity for a little jaunt to my favourite country in with the deal, I signed up to attend a presentation on safety on the road in Italy.
Those who have passed a holiday in a city in Italy will recall the chaos of the busy cobbled roads. The cacophony of car horns, the hot-headed drivers appearing to flaunt the common courtesy of road manners and the plucky teenagers whipping around the traffic on their mopeds without fear or foresight. And anyone who has lived to tell the tale will recall with a pounding heart, the ‘run for your life’ dashes to cross roads even while on the relative safety of a zebra crossing. “Keep moving, they expect to drive around you, if you stop they’re more likely to hit you” I was warned by one wise friend! Bill Bryson tells us that when traversing a road in Italy, we should attempt to take the hand of a passing nun, as no Italian would ever hit a nun, therefore your safe passage would be guaranteed!
Italy has one of the highest densities of car ownership in the world and unfortunately road accident statistics bear out its image as a country of spirited drivers with little regard for the law or the rights of pedestrians. The number of road fatalities per capita is double that of the UK and nearly four times that of the Netherlands, according to figures from the World Health Organisation. In 2009 there were 4,050 road deaths in Italy (DfT). This equates to 6.7 road deaths per 100,000 of population compared to the UK average of 3.8 road deaths per 100,000 of population.
The ‘Educazione Stradale’ type events have been taking shape for the last couple of decades but since 2001 they have taken a more collaborative approach with the traffic police, fire-brigade and ambulance service delivering the lectures together predominantly to young people in schools. The evening event that I attended was hosted by two road traffic police officers Andrea Scamperle & Antonio Benedetti, and my good friend Massimiliano Maculan, an ambulance nurse who works for the S.U.E.M 118 Croce Verde in Verona (see previous post).
There was a good turn out from the people of the small lakeside town of Lazise on Lago di Garda; at a guess I would have said that there were approximately 100 or so who came along. The presentations consist of a series of videos, depicting both real and reconstructed collisions as well as testimonies from the police and ambulance staff. By far the most powerful of the testimonies came from the families of those who have lost loved ones in a Road Traffic Collision (RTC). Although I struggled at times to understand the detail of what was being said, it didn’t stop me feeling the raw emotions of the mother who spoke about her pain at the tragic loss of her teenage child in a RTC. Various videos were used to demonstrate the dangers of poor driving. During one of the videos in particular, a fatal crash caused by texting on a mobile phone while driving was played out, I could see that some of the family members became emotional. It was very graphic and must have taken considerable courage for them to watch it.
Having attended a similar presentation here in London, Safe Drive Stay Alive, it came as no surprise to note that the key messages delivered are the universal ones – all occupants should use a seatbelt, use no drugs or drink alcohol before driving, never use mobile phones to call or text while driving and of course, always drive at a sensible speed.
With each new generation of young drivers bringing up the rear, the need to repeat these events ad infinitum will remain. Sadly it seems that we human beings never have been very good at learning from other peoples mistakes.
Here is a UK video warning of the dangers of texting while driving. A little warning here if you have any children in the room with you – it’s a graphic reconstruction.