Here is a quiz question for you: "You are driving on a highway and you suddenly realize that you just missed the intended exit ramp. What would you do?" Most people would hopefully say “Go to the next exit ramp.” However, as we recently found out, 12% of truck drivers in China said: “Back up or turn-around to the missed exit ramp.”
This was one of examples of unsafe driver behaviors presented by Professor Xiaoduan Sun , PhD and PE at the University of Louisiana and Beijing University of Technology.
In her presentation made at the World Bank, Professor Sun talked about the seriousness of the road safety problems in China, the ways in which the government is addressing the issue as well as remaining challenges and suggestions for how the World Bank can continue and increase its involvement in road safety.
Every day, more than 3,200 people die from road traffic injuries; low and middle-income countries account for 90% of the deaths. And road traffic deaths and injuries are predicted to become the fifth leading cause of death by 2030 (with HIV/AIDS being number 10). That’s why we are already taking action. In 2005 the World Bank established the Global Road Safety Facility  (GRSF) to increase funding and technical assistance, and our work with it since then has helped to reduce fatalities and injuries. Most World Bank road projects today have road safety components included; setting specific performance targets to reduce road trauma is becoming the norm.
The World Bank has recently approved a loan for Argentina specifically for road safety (Argentina Road Safety Project ). Similarly to China, the factors contributing to most road traffic crashes in Argentina include unsafe driver behavior (speeding, recklessness, low personal perceptions of risk, etc). Deteriorating transport infrastructure, poorly designed roads, limited signaling and ineffective traffic enforcement of safety related laws (speed limits, drunk driving, motorcycle helmet and seat belt) also contribute to Argentina’s road safety conditions. And crucially, until recent institutional reforms were made, the absence of a lead agency responsible and accountable for national road safety performance seriously undermined efforts to bring about systematic improvements. The Argentina Road Safety Project  supported by the World Bank loan will reduce the number of deaths by strengthening lead agency management capacity and the broader institutional framework for road safety and by targeting the reduction of road crashes in selected pilot corridors.
The Bank has extensive experience in road safety around the world. For instance, we recently published “Country Guidelines for the Conduct of Road Safety Management Capacity Reviews and the Specification of Lead Agency Reforms, Investment Strategies and Safe System Projects .” They include best practice case studies from Sweden, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Great Britain, Malaysia, Poland and Australia.
We welcomed the opportunity to discuss suggestions on how the Bank can work with the Chinese authorities to make Chinese roads safer. Some of the ideas Professor Sun shred with us included:
- Promote Safety being #1 Priority among Chinese Transport Authorities
- Help to Improve Lead Agency Management and Top Level Government Coordination of Road Safety Strategies, Policies and Programs
- Help to Develop Safety Policies and Programs with Focus on Severe Problem Areas
- Help to Develop Operational Procedures and Financial Mechanisms
- Fund Studies outside Specific Infrastructure Loan Projects for Identifying Root Problems
- Promote Data Reporting and Data Sharing as a Key Element for Road Safety R&D
Road safety is a development priority. The sheer scale of the negative economic and social impacts arising from the death and injury toll accompanying rapid rates of motorization especially in the developing countries call for immediate action. China and Argentina are just two, among many countries, that are addressing the issue. But much more needs to be done. The time is now.
Photos of girls crossing the street and buses in China going against traffic courtesy of Sam Zimmerman.