With more than 1.35 million people dying on the world’s roads every year, it is perhaps unsurprising that so many nations see the need for such a week, but it got me thinking about the differences that various countries encounter when it comes to promoting road safety – and how those of us working in this field cannot afford to believe in a ‘one size fits all’ approach.
You only have to drive for a short while on a country’s roads to see some fairly obvious differences – be it in terms of road condition, traffic mix, land use, operations, signals and signage (or the lack of) or the type of road users that you encounter. I am based in India, but on a recent trip to Bangladesh I noticed how much the nature of road usage can vary even between neighbouring countries. In India, we face the challenge of having many motorcyclists and pedestrians sharing the roads with larger vehicles, but in Bangladesh I saw a much greater proportion of three-wheeler vehicles (rickshaws and tuk tuks) on urban streets and high-speed highways.
When I posted online a video of my experiences driving around Bangladesh, I received responses from around the world, talking about road design solutions that had worked elsewhere or about places where the roads were apparently even scarier to use than the one captured on my dashcam. A Dutch-based engineer pointed to the success that the Netherlands has experienced in building dedicated bicycle and moped lanes that are separated from the main carriageway. The managing director of an Irish traffic management consultancy recalled his own recent visit to the southern Indian city of Bangalore and suggested that solutions for India’s traffic challenges could only be made in India as these solutions would have to recognise the unique nature of the country’s roads.
I agree that each country will have to develop its own road safety strategies to address its own particular mix of road users, road conditions and driver behaviour patterns but there are still basic principles that can be applied wherever in the world one is looking to improve road safety – as we at TRL Software have seen when rolling out our products in countries as varied and as far apart as India, Dubai, Botswana and Jamaica to name just a few.
A universal approach can be taken when it comes to the first part of any road safety plan, which is to identify the main crash types on the network you are operating – and particularly those crashes which are leading to deaths or serious life-changing injuries. The identification of major crash types in your network will provide you with the kind of crash risk to be designed out through various interventions including mass action plans, corridor improvement plans, and so-on.
A good crash data management system like iMAAP will provide not only the ‘where, what, how and when’ information, but also help you to understand the crash risk on the network and to choose interventions (engineering, enforcement and emergency care) which will yield maximum returns – in terms of reduction in deaths and serious injuries, for the road safety investments. The solutions that are developed may look very different and be based on the needs and resources of the place in question, but the value of clear, reliable data to properly understand the precise factors involved in road collisions is the same the world over.
Once you have robust crash data, you can map it and then analyse it against historic data to identify ‘black spots’ where crashes that show a particular pattern are happening more frequently than on other parts of a network. When we started using iMAAP in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, for example, we were soon able to show that 20% of the state’s road deaths and 30% of its serious injuries were taking place in specific corridors that added up to less than two percent of the road network. In a part of the world where the road agency has a very limited budget, this meant that money could be focused on engineering improvements, increased enforcement and the more efficient allocation of emergency response resources where it was most needed.
Each country will have to develop its own road safety strategies to address its own particular mix of road users, road conditions and driver behaviour patterns but there are still basic principles that can be applied wherever in the world one is looking to improve road safety.
As well as the ‘where’ and the ‘when’, good crash data analysis provides a lot of information as to the ‘why’ of serious road crashes. This, again, is likely to vary considerably from country to country and even by region. In some places, poor road layouts will be more of a factor, while extreme weather conditions may be a frequent factor somewhere else. Another location may suffer from bad driver behaviour whether it be drink-driving, driving while using mobile phones, or not using seatbelts. But by having the right processes to identify those causes, you can start to come up with a successful road safety strategy, even if the nature of those causes varies from country to country.
Understanding the ‘why’ of road crashes also provides road safety campaigners with the data they need as they push for change, whether that be a change to driving laws, a change to a specific junction layout or a change in public behaviour. The latter can even be combined with the information gained from mapping crash data to run public campaigns in the locations where serious crashes are most prevalent – as was the case when we supported the public authority in Himachal Pradesh with a campaign that was estimated to have reached more than 25,000 people living in the seven districts where 85% of serious road injuries were being suffered.
Changes in public attitude to dangerous behaviour such as speeding, drink-driving or not wearing seatbelts have been shown to have a huge effect in making roads safer and I always look forward to the Indian version of Road Safety Week, which takes place every year in January, as an opportunity to remind all road users of the part they can play in making roads safer. I will also be keeping an eye on the activities taking place as part of this month’s Road Safety Week in the UK, as I believe that all countries can learn from each other’s experiences, even if, at first glance, our roads look very different.
About the author
Based in TRL’s office in Kerala in Southern India, Tony Mathew is Head of Operations & Delivery for TRL Software. After graduating from the University of Calicut with a Bachelor of Technology in Civil Engineering, Tony went to the UK to complete a Master of Science in Road Management and Engineering at the University of Birmingham.
He has more than 20 years’ experience within the road transport sector and has implemented road asset and safety management systems for clients across various countries in Europe, Africa and Asia. Tony is responsible for operations at TRL Technologies and also oversees the delivery of TRL Software projects in Asia and Africa.
TRL is a world leader in transport safety and has developed products and expert services that have been proven to analyse, minimise and prevent road collisions.
In support of Road Safety Week 2023, TRL experts are discussing speed-related road safety topics and considering how this can change make transport safe for everyone.
Find out more at trl.co.uk