In 2001, the European Commission adopted a white paper on transport, 'European Transport Policy for 2010: A time to decide'. Following the white paper, a European road safety action programme was launched with the target of reducing annual road deaths by half by the end of 2010. This ambitious target was set against a background of increasing traffic volumes across much of Europe. However, it could be argued that framing road safety in terms of numbers of accidents and defining success on the basis of changes in these may result in an over-simplified approach. An alternative approach involves defining and monitoring 'safety performance indicators' (SPIs). Examples of SPIs include the safety belt use rate, speed levels or measures aiming to increase the crashworthiness of cars. This approach has enjoyed a higher profile recently through initiatives such as the Safetynet project. The Safetynet project, endorsed by the Sixth Framework Programme built a wealth of data describing the operation of the road transport system, the 'European road safety observatory'. All data were gathered were first harmonised and then made available through the 'Care' system. Data involving in-depth road accident investigation suitable for the calculation and validation of SPIs has been made available for 27 European countries. This allows researchers to make informed decisions about whether comparisons between countries are appropriate or to what extent they reflect real differences in road safety. The 'European road safety observatory' is currently the most useful data source with comparable information at European level. Its further development will eventually enable systematic monitoring of road safety trends and identification of best practices in order to achieve the maximum reduction of road accidents.