Long road to road safety

Long road to road safety

Road safety is a persistent issue, especially when it comes to the developing world. The meeting of the SADC Working Group on Road Safety held on 23 and 24 March revealed some shocking statistics. GAVIN MYERS looks at the report and its recommendations.

 

It has been known for some time that road safety in Africa is the worst in the world – in some countries it is an almost non-existent consideration. In fairness, the majority of countries considered are poor, third world nations with bigger problems on their shoulders. So, while some steps to better the situation have been taken over the years, progress has been gradual and minor.

However, it seems, in the SADC region at least, leaders are seeing the growing importance for increasing road safety in Africa. The Federation of East and Southern African Road Transport Associations (FESARTA) recently published a report on the proceedings of the SADC Working Group on Road Safety that was held in Gabarone on 23 and 24 March. The meeting was intended to be a first attempt at implementing road safety recommendations among the SADC states.

Two main items were covered in the meeting: a study done by the Association of Southern African Road Agencies (ASANRA), and the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety.

ASANRA’s study centred on the Production and Dissemination of Harmonised Guidelines on Road Safety Procedures, which started in 2008 with workshops on the study being held in several SADC member states. The study revealed that 80-85% of road fatalities occur in the developing world – 200 000 people are killed on Africa’s roads annually. It was also noted that the international communities’ eyes, particularly the UN, were on Africa to make a difference in road safety, but donor funding for road safety was results based. The study culminated in a “Draft Implementation Plan for the Management of Road Safety in the SADC Region”. That document needed to be operationalised.

At a SADC level, the ASANRA study made a number of recommendations. Management structures for road safety need to be mandated where issues can be raised and decisions made, and regional road safety targets and progress monitored. Road safety targets and plans need to be discussed on national levels, requirements in the road safety plans harmonised, and a platform to share good practice provided. The collection of crash data and the management of it is seen as a requirement. Important issues identified centred on setting minimum requirements for reporting accidents, the international standard of 30 days being the statistical figure for a death, and integrating registration and data systems. Collaboration was another recommendation, and here it was said SADC was to be represented at global forums.

Other recommendations are possibly the most pressing issues for developing nations, as these deal with enforcement and legislation, infrastructure management for vulnerable road users, communication and education.

Enforcement and legislation requires: ensuring there are bi- and multi-lateral agreements between countries; ensuring minimum enforcement standards are implemented; sharing information about vehicles, drivers and owners; considering an association of traffic enforcement officials; joint operations on corridors; and regional training.

Infrastructure management for vulnerable road users will require adapting design standards to suit these users, including capacity-build officials and safety engineers, and good practices in traffic calming.

Communication and education will require road safety agencies to create a platform to share experiences and also to co-ordinate communication across borders.

Another recommendation is to bring in to line road safety and vehicle regulations, such as crucial legislation, vehicle standards, training programmes and sharing vehicle registration information.

The recommendations included pre-hospital care and incident management. This will see agreements between countries for cross-border emergency responses and standardised procedures for dealing with different aspects of accidents. Lastly, driver training and testing was identified with the points of prioritising training and testing, reviewing the different training systems and again developing protocols to share this information.

The UN Decade of Action for Road Safety is an initiative to reduce the level of road fatalities by 2020, which was globally launched on 11 May. The World Health Organisation has been appointed as its custodian. The Decade for Action is built on five “pillars for action”: improving road safety management; safer roads; safer vehicles; safer road users; and improving trauma care and rehabilitation of victims. The Decade of Action for Road Safety states that almost 1,3 million people are killed on the world’s roads a year, and up to 50 million are injured with many left disabled. Some 90% of these casualties occur in developing countries. The economic cost to developing countries is said to be at least US$100 billion a year. Worryingly, annual traffic deaths are forecast to rise to 1,9 million by 2020 – hence the Decade of Action.

It was also agreed that a way forward should be set. In this regard an outline of what was agreed includes:

• Sensitise the public and increase their awareness of risk factors and the need for enhanced prevention of road crashes. Have a schedule where issues such as pedestrian awareness and education, speeding, wearing of seatbelts and helmets, drinking and driving, use of cellphones, empowering passengers in buses and taxis and vehicle fitness were itemised and quantified.

• The safety of pedestrians and the wearing of seatbelts would be the first priority items. An ad hoc working group (comprising Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, ASANRA, FESARTA and hosted by South Africa) would take this campaign forward, synchronised with the launch of the Decade.

• Urgently capacity-build road safety management structures at country level as there is a need to build a group of experts in road safety management.

• Improve data collection and effectively manage it, to be able to monitor progress during the Decade programme.

• Create a permanent regional road safety working group – possibly from the ad hoc working group – in agreement with the SADC RSCom on Surface Transport.

It is no doubt a positive sign to see action such as this being taken by parties who have the ability to make a dent in the amount of fatalities Africa sees on its roads. However, it’s up to the powers that be to take the recommendations to heart and effect the change in real terms. It will therefore be interesting to see the effect such initiative will have by the end of the UN Decade of Action.

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