BRUSSELS (Reuters) -- Deaths involving car drivers or passengers on Europe's roads have halved over the last decade, but campaigners say tougher EU laws could prevent many more people from dying needlessly.
Figures from the European Transport Safety Council (ETSC), a non-governmental body, found more than 12,000 people were killed in cars in 2012 in the European Union and neighboring Switzerland, the latest available figures, less than half the 28,000 deaths seen in 2001.
The council, in its report on Tuesday, credited stricter safety measures for the improvement.
Spain and Latvia stand out for the most progress, cutting the number of deaths by two-thirds from 2001 to 2012, but other nations still have bad records.
The worst is Poland, where 11 people are killed in cars per billion kilometers travelled, compared with only around 2 in Britain, the Netherlands and Switzerland, according to the ETSC.
"It is simply wrong that 12,000 still die every year for reasons that are mostly avoidable," said Antonio Avenoso, executive director of the ETSC.
EU policy-makers are reviewing road safety regulations and plan to release a report in December, pending formal legislative proposals expected in early 2015.
Wider safety measures
The ETSC is calling for EU-wide action to enforce seatbelt reminders and tougher measures against drink-driving.
Since 1991, all passengers in cars must wear seatbelts in the European Union by law, but in practice seatbelt use varies.
On average, 88 percent of front-seat passengers use seatbelts and 74 percent of rear-seat passengers, which is why safety advocates are pushing for seatbelt reminders, currently required only for the driver's seat.
The ETSC estimates that mandatory reminders for all seats could prevent an additional 900 deaths per year.
Drink driving is another major reason for car deaths, accounting for some 5,600 fatalities annually.
The ETSC is calling for mandatory alcohol interlocks, which prevent the car from starting if the driver fails a Breathalyzer test, for repeat drink-drivers.
Male drivers are most at risk of being involved in fatal accidents, especially young men aged 20 to 25, according to the ETSC report. Overall, more than two-thirds of people killed in cars are men.