With road accidents in the region killing 17 to 22 people per 100,000 of population every year, Middle East governments must work urgently to adopt a multi-dimensional Road Safety Strategy – a holistic frame¬work that encompasses all aspects of the road safety value chain.
According to the World Bank, road crashes kill 1.2 million people and cripple or injure more than 10 million others every year. In fact, at current rates, traffic accidents will become the fifth leading cause of death globally by 2030, up from 10th place in 2010. And, in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, the figures are particularly alarming; traffic accidents kill between 17 to 22 people per 100,000 of population every year, compared with an OECD average of 6.2 per 100,000. In line with this, Management consulting firm Booz & Company has found that, in order to reduce this high rate of traffic accidents, MENA governments must – imperatively – adopt a holistic approach to road safety.
A SYSTEM RIDDLED WITH SHORTCOMINGS
Today, governments tend to structure responses to traffic collisions on the Haddon Matrix – a commonly used paradigm in the injury prevention field. In effect, the Haddon Matrix covers various phases related to traffic accidents, including pre-crash, crash, and post-crash. In the MENA region, however, each element of the Matrix has its shortcomings.
Pre-crash: Most investments and interventions related to traffic accidents are directed at crash prevention. “Road authorities have to apply and comply with global road design guidelines; and, in parallel, traffic authori¬ties must enforce adequate speed limits and regulate road user behavior” said Dr. Ulrich Koegler, a Senior Advisor with Booz & Company. “The truth is, both education and awareness can have a significant impact in reducing crashes. In many MENA countries, over 70 percent of accidents result from driver error or negligence, sometimes due to inadequate driver education”, he added. Vehicle standards also play a major role in preventing accidents given the significance of lighting, braking, and handling, along with other active and passive safety systems. This is yet another primary concern in the region.
Crash: This phase centers on preventing injury during a crash using human and vehicle elements, such as restraints – in the form of safety belts and airbags – and vehicle technologies, including impact bars and increasingly digital technologies. More cars in the MENA region need to have these systems installed, as this can help foster safe driving practices and decrease the number of crashes.
Post-crash: The main focus in this phase is sustaining life through rapid and effective treatment of injuries. Most of the region has insufficient medical coverage, weak insurance systems, poorly designed and equipped emergency services, and a lack of qualified paramedics. “In some MENA countries, over 80 percent of deaths occur before the casualty reaches the hospital, compared with averages of 50 to 60 percent in North America and Western Europe,” said Koegler. “Emergency response – from call to dispatch to the quality and equipment of ambulatory care – is important to ensure that the emergency services can reach accidents and transport and treat casualties to hospitals effectively and expeditiously.”
Koegler also added: “The root of the problem in the Middle East is the lack of a unified vision among concerned ministries and authorities, leading to insufficient coordination and ineffective interventions. Governments and other stakeholders – such as the private sector and civil society – conduct interventions without any clear individual ownership or accountability and with minimal, or poorly defined, community involvement.”
A MULTIDIMENSIONAL ROAD SAFETY STRATEGY
According to Booz & Company, Middle East governments must implement a holistic Road Safety approach so as to ensure a significant reduction in traffic accidents. This strategy rests on six pillars:
1. Urban and Transport Planning deals with basics such as safety considerations and the impact of public transportation during the design of urban communities.
2. Roads and Infrastructure includes the design, construction, operation, and maintenance of roads, bridges, and tunnels to the highest standards for road safety.
3. Traffic Management regulates road user behavior, road network management, and traffic regulations – functions typically exercised by interior ministries.
4. Vehicles involves adopting and implementing policies to ensure high standards for vehicle quality and performance – including active passive safety systems. The ongoing invention of more and better active and passive safety systems even into small cars by the automobile industry makes significant improvements feasible. To benefit from those, it is important that older cars are made obsolescent. Further, the advent of connected or semiautonomous cars will enhance safety.
5. Road User Behavior involves civil society, which can use the media to raise awareness of road safety, and provide safe driving and first aid training programs. Further, traffic safety education needs to start at the kindergarten level and needs to be an integral part of all curriculae of schools and universities.
6. Emergency and Medical Services saves lives and treats serious injuries by improving the coverage, speed, quality, and effectiveness of emergency services.
Subsequently, this strategy requires four cross-functional enablers that span the pillars and ensure that the various compo¬nents of the road safety system have the necessary re¬sources and tools. These enablers include:
Institutional and Regulatory stream¬line traffic safety governance and align regulations with the sector strategy.
Human and Technological build a balanced set of capabilities in the sector. They ensure that the required resources – both technological and human – are on hand.
Research and Evaluation provide decision makers with updated and rigorous research on traffic safety and institutionalize performance metrics to constantly evaluate the Road Safety Strategy’s impact.
Funding Management enables sufficient fund¬ing and prioritized spending, such as through special budgetary allocations, to sustain the strategy.
Finally, MENA governments should embark on a six-step program to enhance road safety. This entails identifying an entity to own the strategy or program; setting up a Program Management Office responsible for performance oversight and liaison with relevant ministries and authorities; adopting robust coordination mechanisms to guarantee ample communication among stakeholders; securing the necessary funding for the duration of the strategy; engaging the private sector and civil society to assist formally with implementing aspects of the strategy; and, lastly, launching and sustaining a high-profile campaign to raise awareness of the importance of road safety.