Road Traffic Injury Prevention

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By Moses Amweelo It is disheartening to note that thousands of people are being killed and injured daily on our roads globally. When the sun rises each day, one finds it difficult to contemplate how many men, women and children will not live to see it setting over the western horizon. Millions are left maimed for life while the thousands of families left behind are shattered; communities and nations are robbed of their productive citizenry – all as a result of road traffic accidents. What is even more worrying is that accidents and their victims are increasing each year, with Africa and the rest of the developing world accountable for more than 80% of the total world road accident fatalities. It has been proven time and again that more than 80% of accidents are a result of human error. In one of the earlier reports on the subject, Heinrich, in his 1928 study of 75ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 000 accidents established the much-quoted 88:10:2 ratio. This meant that 88% of all accidents were caused by unsafe acts, 10% by unsafe conditions and 2% by conditions which could not be prevented. Generally, the loss of lives and injuries taking place on our roads today are substantially the result of our inability as road-users to protect ourselves from inappropriate and careless utilization of the technological advances we have so far acquired since the invention of the wheel. The motor vehicle has been refined to the extent that it is now capable of travelling at speeds in excess of 200 km/h. Vehicle designers and manufactures have become so obsessed by competition and profit that they are unable to reason whether it is safe enough to travel at such neck-breaking speeds on land. These so-called modern societies, influenced by market-driven progressive development of the motor vehicle and the ever-increasing demand for mobility, have brought about a universal pandemic of plague proportion in the form of road traffic accidents. Road traffic-related injuries have become one of the world’s leading causes of injury-related disabilities. In Namibia, we have embarked upon a programme aimed at improving and preserving our road infrastructure. Weighbridges are being constructed at strategic locations across the country. Primary health centres are also being constructed in communities to ensure quick response to emergencies such as road traffic accidents. However, we have observed that there is a correlation between good roads and increased numbers of accidents. This is due to increased travelling speeds and the inability of drivers to handle their vehicles at high speeds and to voluntarily adhere to the rules of the road. At least 30 people were killed on Namibia’s roads during the last Easter weekend, while 106 accidents were reported (The Namibian, 21/04/ 2006). In June 2006, another accident, which occurred about 30km from Otjiwarongo on the road to Otavi, claimed nine lives when a Toyota Quantam minibus collided with a Scania truck (The Namibian, 27/06/2006). The death rate from traffic accidents is extremely high, with more than 4ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 183 accidents reported during the 2004/2005 period, and the period 2005/2006 recorded 4ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 001 accidents. The accident rate is increasing. Road accidents happen when something goes wrong. It could be a mechanical failure, roadway deficiency, driver error, or a combination of these factors. Empirical evidence suggests that driving too fast for the conditions is a major factor in accident causations (Sabey and Taylor, 1980). Speed is a major factor. Higher speed increases risk and results in harder impacts when things go wrong. The impact force of a car travelling at 56km/h is 36% greater than at 48km/h. High speed requires high road standards: (i.e.: roads without junctions, vulnerable road-users, or slow road-users). Traffic-calming with gates, speed humps, narrowings and pedestrian and bicycle facilities have been shown to be effective road safety measures in those situations. Speed humps are cheap and effective speed reducers – when they are designed appropriately. Drivers often hate them, mainly because they must reduce their speed to cross them. The enforcement of speed limits is one effective way to reduce casualties among vulnerable road-users. Some requirements: – Need for better enforcement – poor patchy enforcement encourages law-breaking. – Need for tougher penalties and sentences. – Need to be able to retain some of the fines to cover the costs of enforcement. Police enforcement (with radar and automatic cameras) achieves good speed-control results. In many countries, traffic law-enforcement is a “core function” of the police. The new Road Traffic and Transport Act, which is envisaged to be implemented in the course of the current year, provides for a number of changes to improve road traffic safety. It will consolidate the Road Traffic Ordinance, 1967 and, after its repeal, the remaining provisions of the Road Transportation Act, 1977. The new Act will be the main instrument for regulating road transportation and road traffic in accordance with the policies approved in the White Paper on Transport Policy and for law-enforcement in connection therewith. The Act will, inter alia, address “road traffic safety” matters such as motor vehicle roadworthiness-testing, registration of motor vehicles, driver-testing and licensing, licensing of driving instructors, control of overloading, regulation of road traffic and rules of the road. Some effects of unsafe roads are the following: – Some vehicles are not roadworthy; existing traffic rules are insufficient and/or not being enforced. – Many pedestrians and other vulnerable road-users cross roads in an uncontrolled manner. – Some drivers are poorly trained and/or are poor drivers. Regarding “discipline”, many drivers are aggressive, they overtake where they shouldn’t, obstruct traffic when parking, don’t slow down near/at villages, don’t heed speed limits, only switch vehicle lights on when its completely dark, rarely use seatbelts and overload their vehicles. – The construction monitoring and supervision of contractors is not always adequate. – Contractors are not always implementing projects correctly (e.g.: signs are misplaced). – Low coordination and few linkages among the various stakeholders dealing with road safety. Road safety is a multi-disciplinary problem, with at least three main areas: environment/engineering, enforcement and education. A large number of organizations involved in road safety must take the necessary actions to improve road safety within their area of responsibility. The road safety problem can only be tackled effectively through coordinated action aimed at reducing the deficiencies in each of the main areas affecting road safety. Education, enforcement, and engineering are absolutely necessary to improve road safety and to change the behaviour of road-users. The road traffic safety issues should be undertaken in a holistic manner within the framework of a systems-discipline cycle, namely systems philosophy, theory, analysis, development and management. For this purpose, it seems necessary that an integrated traffic safety management system needs to be developed, implemented and managed. To accomplish this, the entire issue of road traffic safety needs to be re-engineered. It is very important that we put into motion a process whereby a closer scrutiny of the current road safety management processes will be undertaken. As government, we need to re-look at the whole concept of road safety management and apportion responsibilities to those best suited to carry them out. It is imperative that role-players be mobilized to assume their respective responsibilities in national road safety programmes aimed at minimizing road traffic accidents and their associated injuries and human suffering.