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Road Safety

Road Safety: A Development Challenge for South Asia


Road accidents are a leading cause of death and injury worldwide. By 2020 the World Health Organisation (WHO) projects that road crash injuries will be the third highest threat to public health, outranking other serious public health problems such as tuberculosis, diarrheal diseases, HIV/AIDS, and lower respiratory infections. In South Asia along, road traffic fatalities are expected to increase from 135,000 in 2000 to 330,000 in 2020 (World Report on Road Traffic Injury Prevention, WHO, 2004). That's a 144 percent increase in deaths from road crashes. 


Accidents are particularly prevalent in low and middle income countries – 85 percent of the world’s road deaths occur in developing countries. The South Asia region has a one fifth share in these fatalities.


As a nation’s economy grows, the number of motor vehicles increases. This means death and injury from traffic accidents are likely to increase, since motorized traffic competes with slower moving non-motorized traffic for road space, especially if measures are not taken to mitigate the problem. In South Asia, motorized traffic has been increasing at a rapid pace, typically over 10 percent annually in major urban areas.


Road Safety & Poverty


Road accidents disproportionately affect the poor, making road safety an economic development imperative. Most of the victims of road accidents aren’t even in a motor vehicle. Pedestrians, cyclists and motorcycle riders are the most vulnerable road users and account for the majority of traffic deaths in low and middle income countries. In Dhaka city, Bangladesh, pedestrians alone comprise almost 75 percent of road accident fatalities. In Delhi, India, pedestrians and bicyclists account for around 55 percent, and pedestrians, bicyclists and motor cyclists account for over 80 percent of the total road traffic deaths. The pattern is similar in Colombo, Sri Lanka, where the figures are 45 percent and 80 percent respectively.


A shortage of safe, affordable travel options makes things even worse for the poor. Long distance buses are often overcrowded. It is not unusual to see passengers riding on bus roofs increasing the chance of an accident, and risking many lives at once.


Road accidents are an economic burden, and pose a major challenge to the health care system. The economic cost of road crashes and injuries is estimated to be 1-1.5 percent of gross national product (GNP) for low and middle income countries, about US$ 65 billion which is more than they receive in development assistance. Critical and often scarce health care resources get consumed by road crash cases. This hurts a country’s ability to respond to other health care needs. Road traffic injuries also place a heavy burden on the household finances of the victims and their families. Many families are driven deeply into poverty by the loss of a breadwinner and the added burden of disabled members.


Addressing the Challenge of Road Safety


The human and economic damage caused by road crashes is largely preventable. Flaws in road design and engineering, coupled with driver behavior, can be overcome with concerted effort.

  • Institutional Challenges:   In South Asia, governments so far have been slow to cope with the growing level of traffic.  Setting up agencies with a separate budget and the power to enforce regulations to address road safety at an institutional level would be an important step forward.   
  • Behavioral Challenges: Lack of awareness and consciousness about road safety among road users, planners and engineers, exacerbates the problem.  Drivers, for instance, are often not conscious of the inherent risks of high travel speeds, and overcrowded passenger buses.  This problem can be mitigated with public awareness campaigns, improved driver training and testing, and better trained enforcement personnel and engineers.  Standardizing the collection of collision data can also bridge a very significant informational gap.

  • Engineering Challenges: Road safety audits should be introduced by road agencies as an important crash prevention measure.  Important design and traffic calming measures such as median drivers, speed bumps, rumble strips, road markings, traffic signs, and roundabouts are usually not present in most of these countries.  Moreover, because much of the traffic in developing countries consists not of motorized vehicles but rather bicycles and pedestrians, the building of separate non-motorized traffic and motorcycle lanes to ensure the smooth flow of traffic and a safe environment is imperative.

World Bank Interventions


The World Bank addresses road safety challenges as part of the transport projects it finances, and demonstrates that this can also be an effective component of primary health and education and social development projects.


The World Bank has implemented various measures on road safety in South Asia, and around the world. In 1999, the World Bank also helped initiate the Global Road Safety Partnership, a unique coalition of business, civil society, and governmental organizations working together to improve road safety around the world.


Reforming Institutions: World Bank supported projects in South Asia have focused on helping regional governments improve policies and regulations and establish road safety agencies.  In India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, the Bank has assisted government agencies in developing comprehensive road safety action plans, at both the national and state level as well as for specific cities like Dhaka and Lahore.  The Bank has also assisted in projects which include the development of manuals for safety audit, accident black spot investigations, road signs and markings, and computerized accident recording and analysis systems.


Changing Public Behavior: Public awareness campaigns are a key part of the World Bank's efforts to improve road safety; one such project has been created for the National Highway Authority of India. In these efforts, the NGO's have played a vital role.  For instance in Bangladesh, NGO's have undertaken comprehensive road safety education and pubic information campaigns in local communities with the support of the Bank.


Better and Safer Engineering: Technical assistance has also focused on designing and constructing better and safer roads.  In India, the Bank has assisted in improving hazardous locations on the national highway and state highway networks, as well as the installation of safer road features and devices.  In Bangladesh and the Indian states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Gujarat, Kerala and Uttar Pradesh, it has provided funding for improvements of accident blackspots, installation of reflective traffic signs and road markings.


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