One ofF Finland’s busiest highways, Highway 51, runs westwards for about 75 km from Helsinki to Karjaa. Also known as Länsiväylä, the double-lane stretch of road between Helsinki and Kivenlahti alone sees some 15,000-20,000 cars each weekday. It’s a prime example of the kind of unexpected problems community planning can lead to.

In mid-August this year a young woman lost her life on highway 51 near Kirkkonummi. Preparing to turn onto the highway from Tolsa, she was hit from behind by a larger vehicle and pushed into the path of oncoming traffic. This unfortunate news came as no surprise to those utilising the highway between Kivenlahti and Kirkkonummi on a regular basis, with numerous letters to the editor in various newspapers and discussion boards on the internet over the years having repeatedly questioned its safety.

A report in Helsingin Sanomat on 22 August claimed that since 2000, more than 110 traffic accidents resulting in injury and death have occurred on the stretch between Kivenlahti and Karjaa. Is Highway 51 one of the most dangerous stretches of road in the whole of Finland?

Depending on the method of compiling statistics, even one major accident can skew a road’s reputation in the public eye. For example, the horrific accident that occurred in Konginkangas on 19 March 2004, in which 23 passengers died after a bus collided with a tractor trailer, could immediately qualify the E4 (E75) as a very dangerous road.

The problem with highway 51 lies in the congestion brought on by the many people who moved to Kirkkonummi in the earlier part of this decade, when residential construction was booming. A great number of these residents drive to work in Helsinki and Espoo. There are four feeder roads to Highway 51 that are of a major concern, especially when drivers have to turn left onto the highway: Tolsa, Porkkala, Jorvas and Masala/Sundsberg.

After being on the development list for some time, Highway 51 from Kivenlahti westwards will soon undergo improvements. According to Tiehallinto, the Finnish Road Administration, this much needed construction work will commence in 2010 and should last until 2013.

Carmen Boudreau-Kiviaho