WRI-ODI study helps cities overcome political barriers to address escalating road safety problems
WASHINGTON (March 23, 2018)—An estimated 1.25 million people are killed and a staggering 50 million are injured in traffic collisions each year. Yet, road safety remains a remarkably low political priority in cities around the world, a new study warns. In many cases, road safety is seen to be in direct conflict with other priorities, such as reducing congestion or shortening journey times. New research led by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities finds it is possible to balance competing priorities and save lives by reframing road fatalities as a public health issue and taking a more integrated approach to road safety, strategies that are already working in some cities.
The majority of people killed and injured on roads are poorer working-age males who tend to use vulnerable modes of transport such as walking, cycling and motorcycling. This means that poorer sections of society bear the brunt of lost wages, hospital bills and educational disruption. And 90 percent of traffic fatalities occur in low- and middle-income countries where urbanization is fastest.
“We are increasingly equipped with better knowledge about the types of interventions that can reduce fatalities and serious injuries caused by traffic collisions,” said ODI researcher Daniel Harris, one of the report co-authors. “These deaths and their enormous social and financial tolls are not inevitable, yet we have seen little progress.”
The challenge is that both politicians and the public tend to blame individual road users for collisions, rather than policymakers or planners. The report, “Securing Safe Roads: The Politics of Change,” looks at ways to break through politics and bureaucracy, and make road safety a priority for government officials and residents alike. The report recommends:
• Tackling road safety alongside other issues, such as addressing congestion
• Reframing road safety in public debates, making connections with issues that people care about such as the economy, equality and education
• Building alliances at all levels of government: local, regional and national
• Producing a dedicated road safety plan with short, medium and long-term aims and objectives
“It’s clear that there is a political dimension to reducing road deaths,” said author Anna Bray Sharpin, transportation associate at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities. “It is important that those trying to improve road safety focus as much on building the political case as on the technical solutions.”
The report includes an in-depth analysis of three cities: Nairobi, Mumbai and Bogotá. The researchers found that Bogotá halved the number of traffic fatalities between 1996 and 2006, due in part to reframing road fatalities as a public health issue and taking an integrated approach to road safety. Improving public transit, and pedestrian and cycling infrastructure in Bogotá also gave people safer travel options.
Saul Billingsley, executive director of the FIA Foundation, which supported the project, said: “Road traffic deaths and injuries are not ‘accidents.’ They are the direct consequence of system failures and political choices. This report clearly shows that, when political will is focused on ending needless road deaths, lives can be saved very quickly, but that focus must translate into long-term investment.”
Without urgent action, it is unlikely cities will meet the targets on road safety set out in the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 and millions more people will die or be injured on the roads.