11 Jan 2018

Why Belgium can't get a handle on hit-and-runs

It was a terrible start to 2018: back-to-back hit-and-run accidents where the driver left the scene. Shame on Belgian drivers, who seem to be the slowest learners regarding road safety.

Marjan Justaert
Marjan Justaert De Standaard, Belgium
Source: De Standaard
Why Belgium can't get a handle on hit-and-runs - NewsMavens
Car accident. Wikicommons

Why this story matters:

health, scandal

The stories of hit-and-run collisions in Belgium keep coming, and each one seems worse that the one before it.

The most recent case happened only a few days ago: a 5-year-old girl and her father were seriously injured in Brussels by a car that fled the scene. When police caught the driver, he was drunk.

One day earlier, a hit-and-run driver knocked down three pedestrians crossing a road in the city of Hasselt. The driver was later arrested in a bar, over the alcohol limit and without a driver's license.

These cases illustrate a problem that seems to have bedeviled the Belgian government: how to stop "flight crimes" where drivers keep going after causing serious or fatal hit-and-run crashes.

Ludo Kluppels, a psychologist who works for the Belgian Institute for Traffic Safety, said there needs to be a change in mentality that leads drivers to flee the scene of a crash. There also needs to be a change in the law that often allows drivers to leave a crash scene with impunity.

"Perhaps it is because Belgians try to avoid rules in all sorts of ways," Kluppels said. "We also have a difficult relationship with controls."

The case of Saar Gevaert may prove her point. Two years ago, the Belgian teenager was run over and killed while crossing the road with her bike. The 33-year-old driver, who was drunk, sped off and was given a suspended sentence. He then borrowed a friend's car and committed a second hit and run. A higher court finally imposed a 10-year driving ban. Saar's parents organized a ceremony of remembrance to voice their anger that the driver was allowed back on the road after Saar was killed.

'Belgians avoid the rules, that's how they are'

  • Belgium is the second-worst European country for hit-and-run collisions, with about 70,000 each year. Only the United Kingdom is worse.
  • 4,400 people were injured by hit-and-run drivers.
  • In 26 fatal accidents, the driver who caused the crash left the scene every time.
  • The government has promised tougher sentences for hit-and-runs but have had problems enforcing them.
  • Safety advocates are urging more effective traffic sentences, such as a lifelong driving ban for serious offenders 

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