By Ariel Hofher
Published May 22, 2013
Rapid urbanisation in the developing world has led to explosive growth in vehicular traffic on dangerously constricted infrastructure; experts say the result hinders the growth of cities and countries as a whole.
The recent release of the World Health Organization (WHO)’s 2013 Global Status Report on Road Safety, which shows developing countries share a disproportionately higher burden of road traffic fatalities, has spurred the United Nations to make a Call for Action to Member States and declare 2011-2020 as the Decade of Action on Road Safety.
According to The Global Health Observatory (GHO), vulnerable road users–pedestrians, cyclists, riders of motorised two-wheelers, and their passengers–make up 80% of road traffic injuries and fatalities in low-income countries. This calls for increased need for improvements and policies in road safety and infrastructure systems.
“The majority of these countries do not have policies in place to protect road users,” Claudia Adriazola-Steil, Director of the Health & Road Safety Programme at EMBARQ –The World Resources Institute (WRI)’s Centre for Sustainable Transport, says.
“A severe injury can be a terrible burden for poor people, and those are people who don’t have access to medical services, to insurances, so traffic safety definitely has a role in how we are going to get people out of poverty,” Adriazola-Steil says.
Broken down by region, the road safety report found that Africa has the highest proportion of fatalities associated with road safety, 22.1%. The report categorises road traffic deaths by types of vulnerable road users. Walking and bicycling are significant forms of mobility in Africa. Pedestrians account for 38% of fatalities, while cyclists make up another 5% of the proportion of deaths of vulnerable road users.
The “vulnerable users,” the WHO report explains, account for more than just pedestrians, cyclists, riders of motorised two-wheelers, and their passengers. This grouping also includes those who use public transport in unsafe manners. According to the report, “passengers hanging off the sides of buses, or overcrowded minibuses,” are also vulnerable road users.
Low-income countries have a much greater number of vulnerable users of the road than do high-income countries, one reason being that they lack sufficient infrastructure.
“It is a child trying to get to school and is faced with crossing a very dangerous road because there is no infrastructure,” said Esteban Diez-Roux, Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Transport Division Infrastructure and Environment Sector while discussing who qualifies as a vulnerable road user on April 12, 2013 during a panel discussion on road safety at the UN.
Dr. Luis Antonio Lindau, President and Director of EMBARQ Brasil said in a statement that in developing countries, “a poorly qualified road environment is marked by the presence of non-inspected vehicles driven by poorly trained drivers, and very risk-prone pedestrians and cyclists.”
The lack of education and engineering, Diez-Roux and Lindau explain, creates a great risk for a vulnerable road user.
Furthermore, a problem with sustaining safe transport can also be linked to the manufacturing of automobiles that are sold in the developing world. Latin America, according to Diez-Roux, is beginning to test its vehicles with the same protocols that are employed in Europe. However, the cars sold in the developing world, while theoretically are the exact same model and brand as the ones sold outside of these countries, the road safety features are not equivalent.
“They don’t have airbags, they don’t have Anti-lock braking (ABS) systems, and in some cases they are structurally different,” he says. The quality, Diez-Roux explains, is not the same either. “The car companies sell us cheaper cars for the same price, or higher.”
A proposed solution for reducing premature mortality rates through bettering sustainable transport is being worked on by EMBARQ.
According to Adriazola-Steil, they have developed a model, Avoid-Shift-Improve; the aimed result being “lower economic burdens, and improvements in health and human capital, especially among the vulnerable users.”
The idea is to reduce the risk of injuries and fatalities by “Avoiding” or reducing the number of necessary trips with cars. The next component is, “Shifting” people away from individual mobility to environmentally friendly public transportation, for example, walking or cycling. Lastly, “Improving” the efficiency and use of technology in transit systems.
Moreo ver, EMBARQ explains that for the developing countries, this system will allow for further growth with respect to sustainability for the civilians, and cities as a whole. The “shift,” they believe, will improve the quality of life, and accessibility for people in cities and the developing world.
“Sustainable transport and smart urban development can save lives by making cities safer for pedestrians and bikers, improving access to quality public transportation, calming traffic, reducing vehicle emissions, increasing physical activity, and improving quality of life,” said Adriazola-Steil.
A MediaGlobal News feature.