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You have to look after your friends while they are there. Taking candles to the accident site provides cold comfort,"Young men are still the risk group that stands out from road safety statistics".

Jussi Pohjonen from the Finnish Transport Safety Agency says the underlying reason behind the recent fatal traffic accidents is the prevalent speeding culture.

In Toholammi, four young people were killed in a traffic accident just over a week ago and a 10-year-old boy last Saturday. In both cases, the car skidded off the road.

"I used to work as a police officer and then you could predict this phenomenon, which occurs every spring. As soon as road surfaces dry up and days get longer, such speeding accidents start taking place," says Pohjonen. On the population level, also among young people, road safety has improved when measured by the number of injuries and fatalities.

"The same thing happens every spring and summer. Young men are still the risk group that stands out from the road safety statistics."

Pohjonen says the speeding culture plays a bigger role in sparsely populated regions, as in towns where traffic conditions serve to restrict driving speeds.

"In the countryside, social life is different for young people. Someone gets their driving licence and takes a whole bunch of friends for a ride. The driver wants to show off when egged on by their mates," says Pohjonen.

Anna-Liisa Tarvainen, the managing director of the Central Organisation for Traffic Safety in Finland agrees with Pohjonen.

Speeding and neglecting to use the seat belt are main factors in traffic accidents, with alcohol sometimes playing a role. A typical scenario is summer, nighttime and a car full of friends.

"In Finland, speeding has traditionally been considered quite acceptable," says Tarvainen, stressing that most young people are good and conscientious drivers even though certain regions have their risk groups, "who think getting a driving licence turns you into a rally star".

Tarvainen emphasises the importance of educating young people on safety in traffic as early as possible, which road safety organisations have tried to do.

"It's not feasible to think that the first time road safety is addressed is when youngsters go to driving school at the age of 17," she argues.

"It's the little things that make a difference, like getting people to understand the importance of wearing a seat belt."

Pohjonen says that changing young men's attitude towards driving is pivotal.

"At the moment, they believe that the faster you can drive, the better driver you are."

Too pretty a picture

The monitoring of roads by police and parents keeping tabs on their children both have a positive impact on road safety while different traffic safety campaigns also play an important role. Pohjonen says these should pack more punch.

"I think safety campaigns paint too pretty a picture, with birds singing, flowers blossoming and everything going well. I don't mean feasting on gory details, but these campaigns should tell how dangerous it is out there on the roads and what the consequences may be at their worst."

Toholammi's car crash was exceptionally disastrous, the worst accident for a number of years.

For the first few months of the year, it seemed that 2014 would be a good year for road safety.

"This was such a set-back. In the spring, there were long stretches of time without any fatal accidents. It's depressing having something like this take place then," says Tarvainen.

"It seems we are taking a step back to times when there used to be a really gloomy month every summer with regard to road accidents."

Tarvainen says that young people should learn to bear responsibility for their friends.

"People should make sure that the driver is sober and realise that you don't lose your street credibility for fastening that seat belt," she says, adding:

"You have to look after your friends while they are there. Taking candles to the accident site only provides cold comfort."

Paavo Teittinen – HS
Niina Woolley – HT
© HELSINGIN SANOMAT
Image: Antti J. Leinonen

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