The World Health Organization has released their 2013 Global Status Report on Road Safety [the link is a large pdf]. Hat tip to Aili.
It’s neat to see all the metrics they use to rank countries: rate of seat belt usage, seat belt laws, whether these laws apply to all passengers or just some, driving and phone use laws, policies that promote walking and biking, speed limits, speed limit enforcement, various post-crash care indicators etc. etc. The report is very transparent about missing and bad data.
Nigeria is the fifth most dangerous country for road safety. The most dangerous country is the Dominican Republic, where an average person has a 1 in 480 chance of dying in a road accident in their lifetime.
22% of global road traffic deaths are pedestrians, and 5% are cyclists.
There’s a new NBER working paper called “State vs. Consumer Regulation: An Evaluation of Two Road Safety Interventions in Kenya,” by James Habyarimana and William Jack.
The study compared the relative impact of 1) increased regulatory requirements on minibus operators and 2) a consumer empowerment initiative on traffic accidents, measured by examining insurance claims. The latter involved placing stickers in minibuses showing injuries and encouraging riders to heckle and chide dangerous drivers.
The study finds that the regulatory requirements had no lasting effects on accidents, but the consumer empowerment initiative led to decreased accidents. The authors are themselves unsure of the mechanism. I have a hard time believing the stickers worked through the mechanism of rider complaints. When I ask drivers to slow down, other riders in the car get annoyed with me. They want to get to their destination quickly, just as the driver does. It has never been the case that I ask a driver to slow down and others in the car pile on in agreement. Put differently, I don’t think it is the case that riders want the driver to go slower, and simply need the encouragement to make this request.
The regulatory requirements included many things (e.g. cars getting installed with devices that shut down the engine when the car goes above a certain speed–drivers figured out ways to deactivate the device), but did not include an increased traffic police presence. I think traffic police–even corrupt ones–are currently the most promising option for reducing traffic accidents. They are needed mostly on the long roads that connect cities, but also in larger cities like Abuja where speeding is possible.
People in Monrovia drive so safely a visitor could be forgiven for thinking she had landed in a ruthless authoritarian regime where the dictator had decreed kind, defensive driving.
There is a bypass near the Executive Mansion that has no stop sign (not that I know of any stop signs in Liberia), nor traffic light (not that I know of any working traffic light in Liberia) where sometimes both approaching cars stop to let the other car go. On the main road cars move relatively slowly and stay in their lane. This is a different world from the roads of Nigeria.
Maybe this is because of Monrovia Mayor Mary Broh’s (of famed “Don’t raze me Broh” t-shirts, after she razed down several informal communities) draconian enforcement of rules related to the appearance of the city. Maybe police are enforcing driving behavior, though I saw none of this.
But I have a different theory. As a result (in part) of missile fire during the war, the main road had debilitating potholes for many years. It also had these bizarre speed-bump type bumps in certain sections. For years people drove very slowly on the main road to protect their cars and limit the need for expensive repairs. I think this created a culture of slow driving which has persisted even though the main road is now in great shape.
One other theory I’ve had: The town is so small no one wants to cut off someone who they might need something from tomorrow.
A few days ago there was an article in The Daily Times Nigeria about car accidents in the country (h/t to Carmen). The article had a lot of potential, but came to a conclusion I disagree with, arguing that the cause of car accidents is bad roads. This might be part of the problem, but the real problem is the good roads (combined with no speed limit enforcement), which make it possible to go dangerously fast.
The biggest cross-cultural issue I have when traveling has nothing to do with not eating meat or being a woman. It’s when I have to ask people who are giving me a ride to drive slower. I hope someday the Nigerian government reallocates some police from security checkpoints and makes them traffic cops.
Some of my other depressing thoughts on car crashes in the developing world are here.