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Motorization and its discontents

Roger Gorham's picture
Photo: Sarah Farat/World Bank
They say a picture is worth a thousand words.  While visiting the World Bank library the other day, I was struck by how many development publications featured pictures of motor vehicles on their covers, even though most of them covered topics that had little to do with transport.  The setting and tone of the pictures varied – sometimes they showed a lone car on a rural highway, sometimes congested vehicles in urban traffic, and sometimes a car displayed proudly as a status symbol – but the prevalence of motorized vehicles as a visual metaphor for development was unmistakable to me: in the public imagination, consciously or otherwise, many people associate development with more use of motorized vehicles.

Indeed, motorization – the process of adopting and using motor vehicles as a core part of economic and daily life – is closely linked with other dimensions of development such as urbanization and industrialization.

Motorization, however, is a double-edged sword.

For many households, being able to afford their own vehicle is often perceived as the key to accessing more jobs, more services, more opportunities—not to mention a status symbol. Likewise, vehicles can unlock possibilities for firms and individual entrepreneurs such as the young man from Uganda pictured on the right, proudly showing off his brand new boda boda (motorcycle taxi). 

But motorization also comes with a serious downside, in terms of challenges that many governments have difficulty managing.  Motor vehicles can undermine the livability of cities by cluttering up roads and open spaces—the scene of chaos and gridlock in the picture below, from Accra, is a telling example. In addition, vehicles create significant safety hazards for occupants and bystanders alike… in many developing countries, road deaths have effectively reached epidemic proportions. From an environmental standpoint, motorized transport is, of course, a major contributor to urban air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Lastly, motorization contributes to countries' hard currency challenges by exacerbating their long-term demand for petroleum products.

Given these challenges, how are developing countries going to align their motorization trajectories with their development goals?  What should the World Bank advise our clients about how to manage this process?

India’s First Crash Test Results Show Vehicle Safety Challenges

Dipan Bose's picture
In most developed countries, you might have a good sense of how safe your new vehicle is. Or at least you will be able to access information on safety standards and independent crash test results at the time of purchase. But if you live in a developing country this information either does not exist or is not readily available.

Few consumers in developing countries are aware of the standard safety features in vehicles, and in most cases, the government has failed to mandate the minimum crashworthiness safety standards as recommended by the UN. But the situation is starting to change, and it is exciting to see some progress since the last time I wrote about this important topic. In that blog, I had mentioned how the New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) in Latin America highlighted the fact that new cars sold in that region were 20 years behind in safety technology compared to similar models sold in the US and the European Union.

Earlier this year in New Delhi, the Global New Car Assessment Program, a consumer-awareness non-profit, presented for the first time independent consumer crash test results for five of India’s most popular small cars. Besides increasing awareness among Indians about safety performance of the cars they buy, the event also explored how regulatory standards, in combination with consumer information and incentives, can create a ‘market for safer vehicles’ in the rapidly motorizing nations of the developing world.

Why Vehicle Safety Matters in Crash-Related Deaths

Dipan Bose's picture
As a researcher in vehicle safety, my friends in the US often ask, “Which is the safest car to buy?” My friends and family back in India, on the other hand, have never connected with that question. Cars sell for brand-name, comfort and fuel economy, not for the way they perform in a crash.

Stopping the Carnage on the Roads: a Multisectoral Challenge

Patricio V. Marquez's picture

During a trip to South Africa last week, I was saddened to read this newspaper headline:  “24 people killed, 14 seriously injured, and 44 with minor injuries after bus smashed into a mountainside.” The bus was bringing people back to Cape Town's township of Khayelitsha from a church gathering in eastern Mpumalanga—most of the occupants were women and children.