A few minutes after midnight on 25 April 2007 Kostas Kouvidis left the “Parafono” Jazz club heading for the latin club “Cubanita”. He boarded on a Jeep Wrangler that a friend and fellow musician drove. At the junction of Stadiou and Pesmatzoglou streets a typical “modern” Greek 18year old youth, having had a driving license for just 4 months, speeding with his brand new VW POLO 1600 GTi chose to ignore the –red signing– traffic light and crashed with high velocity on the car that Kostas was in… It all happened during the international week for “road safety”.
In Greece every day at least six people loose their lives in similar traffic “accidents” and many more are severely injured, a lot of whom retaining some sort of damage for the rest of their lives.
The cause of this situation has for many years been ascribed to the bad quality of the road network and the inadequacy of the Greek drivers’ training system.
Formal bodies dealing with road safety have been established, European and government funding has been secured and an army of safety specialists, analysts and consultants has developed.
At the same time the situation is getting worse year after year and Greece continues to lead the European list of deadly traffic accidents per citizens.
Lately accusations have been made that a great part of the European funds supplied in order to fight the problem, in reality “disappear” in various “Road Safety Institutes” that have been established.
The latter should come at no surprise since Greece is also heading the EU list for corruption…
To complete the picture the new Minister of Transport thought it appropriate to schedule his first official public appearance at a show of Formula 1-type transformed civilian cars that took place in the former airport base of “Ellinikon”…
“More cars - faster cars - safer cars”: a motto reiterated constantly not only from the car industry but also from the ministry of transport, the media, the banks and all sorts of safety "specialists", off course. Meanwhile none deals with the real problem.
The car industry is never hassled, the legal framework relating to the issuance and withdrawal of driving licenses remains effectively unchanged and the legal responsibility for causing a deadly car accident remains minimal, in fact it has been characterized as the least punishing in the western word. In Greece you can literally kill people (even deliberately- as long as you don’t testify it in court) by driving over them and not even have your driving license taken (jail sentence is out of the question of course)…
The special traffic police is mostly decorative and absent - even from the streets of Athens, the nations’ capital (not to mention the county).
And what about the security cameras that have been installed in the streets of Athens? Could they have a positive role in fighting this problem? Of course not, their operation is not targeting traffic incidents…. In the accident that Kostas Kouvidis lost his life no security camera was recording at the time of the accident. Apparently no security cameras are recording in Pireos street (another central avenue in Athens) where the murderous illegal inversions kill innocent people, every now and then.
Taking into account the (apparently theoretical) speed limits that exist in most countries some, (obvious?) questions appear in ones mind:
1)Why is it legal to produce, sell and drive civilian cars (such as the VW Polo 1.6 GTi and many others) that can accelerate very quickly and develop extreme velocities within only a few meters?
2)Why is it legal to advertise these “virtues” through the press, the t.v. and the internet, effectively helping in developing an urban race culture among many youths
3)What exactly is a safe car? If a POLO 1600 can easily throw six meters away a JEEP WRANGLER, in a city centre car crash, what is the safety offered by the cars involved?
4)Does the Greek state really care for the life of its citizens? According to the Greek law any death caused by traffic accidents is by definition treated as “by neglect”. As a result the offenders retain their full civil rights,inclusive of their driving license and are immediately released to continue their “social service” until they stand for trial, usually two to three years later. The maximum sentence that they can receive amounts to five years in prison, which is vendible for a nominal fee, but inreality the usual sentence is 1 ½ to 2 years of prison, with reprieve.
In the case of Kostas’s "accident" the driver of the VW (neither drunk nor under the influence of illegal substances as it turned out) testified to the police (at 01:30 the same night) that he was driving asleep and did not remember anything. The police investigated the site and not discovering any sign of breaking action addressed him to the attorney on the charges of: a). violation of red light, b). violation of speed limit, c) responsibility for accident leading to death. At 08:00 the prosecuting attorney Antonios Elefthrianos, released him, free of any restrictions, and handed him back his driving license! No official date for a trial has been set yet ( May 2008).
There are many thousand families in Greece that have lost at least one person in a traffic “accident”. In the same manner there are also thousand of people that have caused the death of one or more persons – sometimes in two or three different accidents! The Greek state appears to have assumed the role of the official advocate of the offenders. The “freedom” to drive(the word dictatorship is probably more appropriate) in the way that you feel like, irrespective of the rights of any other person that might come across your way,needs to be supported by a solid legal framework…