Counting the DEAD

Counting the DEAD will the new strategy reduce road Accidents in Addis?

In Ethiopia, road traffic accident (RTA) has been among the main causes of death. For example, 4,500 people died of RTA in 2016/17. The problem seems staggering in Addis Ababa. In fact, it became one of the top ten causes of deaths in the city in the last decade. The number of deaths due to RTA rose from 395 in 2006/07 to 463 in 2016/17. The city administration, which introduced road traffic safety strategy in March 2017, has launched its action plan recently. With primary targets of halving deaths and injuries by 2023; and providing sustainable transport systems for all by 2030, the action plan establishes a framework to implement a successful road safety programme. EBR explores the strategy and the potential developments to come.

On Wednesday afternoon, September 6, 2017, the vehicle of Wolday Amaha (PhD), a well known Ethiopian agricultural economist and serving executive director of the Association of Ethiopian Microfinance Institutions, collided with a heavy Truck while he was travelling to Addis Ababa from Modjo town, 76 kilometres east of the capital. As a result Wolday, an assistant professor at Addis Ababa University, a member of the board of directors at Commercial Bank of Ethiopia, and a former president of the Ethiopian Economic Association, lost his life.

Though what happened to Wolday who is survived by his three children is heartbreaking, it is not something unusual especially these days. Despite having very small number of vehicles even compared with neighbouring countries, Ethiopia stands tall in terms of RTA globally. Currently, one person is killed by traffic accident every two hours in Ethiopia.

Data obtained from the Ministry of Transport (MoT) reveals that 4,500 people died of RTA in 2016/17. The problem looks much concerning in Addis Ababa where 70Pct of the total 750,000 vehicles in the country operate. There were 463 deaths as a result of RTA in Addis Ababa last year.

In fact, traffic accidents became one of the top ten causes of deaths in Addis Ababa in the last decade with death tolls increasing by 17.21Pct from 395 a decade ago. A staggering 4,000 people lost their precious lives in the decade.

The crisis is nothing short of a catastrophe. One of the fatal and unforgettable traffic accidents was exhibited in the capital in July 2014 around a place commonly known as Asrasemint Mazoria in Kolfe Keranyo District which killed 20 people and injured 44 others. Another accident on the Addis-Adama expressway in January 2015, left 11 people killed and nine badly injured.

In the past, the government has been making efforts to minimize these devastating accidents especially through awareness creation programmes with stakeholders. Some concrete initiatives were implemented to tackle the problem by installing a wide range system that coordinates the activities of different institutions. The result however is contrary; accidents become more frequent and worse day after day.

Experts stress that the efforts that are taken to minimize traffic accidents are not bearing fruits because the government failed to devise a strategy based on concrete studies that identifies the root causes of the problem using internationally accepted theories.

However, considering the loss of precious life and injuries as well as resources that have far reaching social, economic and political consequences, the Addis Ababa City Administration launched a Road Safety Strategy in March 2017 to reduce fatal road accidents. Aiming to cut the link between economic growth and road trauma, the strategy identifies the causes of traffic crashes and prescribes effective ways to improve road safety.

The strategy was developed under the leadership of Addis Ababa Deputy Mayor Abate Sitotaw who heads the City Road Safety Council that includes half a dozen government agencies and actively cooperates with and receives technical assistance from international partners such as the Bloomberg Philanthropies Initiative for Global Road Safety, Vital Strategies and the Johns Hopkins University International Injury Research Unit, among others.

To support the strategy, the city administration launched the action plan last month that intends to break the chain between economic growth and road trauma, linking safe driving and economic growth. With two primary targets of halving deaths and injuries by 2023 and providing sustainable transport systems by 2030, the action plan establishes a framework for officials to implement policies in the sector.

“Every day, at least one person leaves home and never returns because of our ongoing road safety crisis,” noted the deputy mayor at the launching ceremony held in Sheraton Addis a month ago to show the severity of the situation. “Road safety is a shared responsibility; achieving lasting change requires the government, industry actors and the community to work together.”

In his research entitled ‘Trends, Causes, and Costs of Road Traffic Accidents in Ethiopia’ published in 2017, Amanuel Kussia, a lecturer at the Ethiopian Civil Service University  argues that studies that help to put traffic accident safety strategies in place need to be conducted applying  accepted methodologies. These enable to objectively show that “road traffic accidents not only adversely affect the livelihood of individuals but also their family members, as it can lead households into poverty via the enduring effects of the episodes: the costs of medical care, treatment and loss of family’s income generators.” Amanuel stressed.

Of course, many road safety experts state that preventing traffic accidents is extremely difficult in the absence of the proper understanding of the causes. Therefore, reaching out to the root cause of the problem could be the only way out.

Under normal circumstances, authorities may depend on penalties to teach offenders. However, experiences indicate that drivers often neglect risk and are exposed to high road traffic accidents due to reasons beyond their capacity. As a result, measures that have been in place were not as productive as aspired.

The predictions theories of traffic causation are a widely used theoretical background in the study of road traffic accidents. These enable to identify, isolate and ultimately remove the problems. For example, authorities get the chance to see alternative solutions such as constructing another road to minimize the traffic jam in a given road so that the drivers can have the chance to drive to different location without being exposed to traffic accidents if they are conversant with the proper study conducted.

The Risk Theory is prominent theory in the study of accidents. For instance from the perspective of pedestrians, according to Amanuel, risk is the function of four elements: the amount of movement or travel within the system by different users; the underlying probability of traffic accident, given a particular exposure; the probability of injury, given a crash; and the outcome of injury. Taking these elements in to consideration in the case of Addis Ababa, the strategy underlines that the most important safety issue in the capital is a high proportion of pedestrian causalities. This is because of the combination of high pedestrian activity, minimal safety protection for pedestrians and poor provision of pedestrian facilities.

As a result, four critical safety priorities and six strategic safety directions have been identified for the strategy implementation. Accordingly, with 70Pct of residents in Addis Ababa accounted as pedestrians, and paying a heavy toll of road fatalities with 80Pct of all deadly accidents, the first priority of the strategy is on improving pedestrian safety.

Pedestrians receive the brunt of the entire road trauma and it is not surprising to focus the safety strategy on them stating a combination of high pedestrian activity, low levels of safety protection for pedestrians, and poor facility provision. “By focusing on the whole road environment, our strategy is to direct investment decisions to improve roads for greater pedestrian safety,” Jiregna Hirpa, deputy director general of Road Traffic Management Agency told EBR. “The Agency has decided to erect fences that separates pedestrian zone from vehicles at 30 selected places in the current fiscal year.”

The main activities that will be performed by the city administration in implementing the strategy include performing pedestrian facility inspections every six months, maintaining facilities based on standards, increasing night-time pedestrian visibility, implementing Car-Free-Day Programme and School Road Safety Programmes. The School Road Safety Programme will be activated [in few months], according to Jiregna.

The other traffic accident prediction theory used globally is ‘The System Theory’. According to this approach, from the drivers’ perspective road traffic accidents are usually caused by flaws in three major components: the behaviour of the driver, the environment, and the vehicle. Behaviour of drivers is one of the most important elements. This includes characteristic of road users such as driving behaviour, driving experience and driving style. On the other hand, the vehicle component comprises of the type, age, and quality of vehicles.

The strategy implementation document that analyses the vehicle component indicates that most vehicles in fatal crashes are commercial motor vehicles, owned and operated in order to sell goods, passenger transport services such as minibuses (taxis). In fact, data obtained from the Addis Ababa Police Commission states that 63Pct of the vehicles involved in fatal traffic accident were taxis, buses, trucks and other commercial vehicles between 2010/11 and 2015/16.

One of the major factors contributing to the traffic accidents is drivers who drive while drunk. Periodic survey conducted by Johns Hopkins University in 2015 indicates that Addis Ababa has a significant drink driving problem, with 10Pct of commercial vehicle drivers testing positive for alcohol above legal limits. As the result, stronger enforcement of laws on a group of people who have been identified as high-risk drivers has been identified as the second priority in the strategy.

 “The city administration is mainly focusing on methods that enforce speed reduction to reduce the rate of traffic accidents in the following two years, otherwise, if the current rate of accident increases, we will face national traffic catastrophe,” says Yehdego Seyoum, Commissioner of the Addis Ababa  Police Commission.

While human behaviour is crucial, road conditions are also important in preventing accidents and fatalities. The strategy has set goals to ensure all roads in the city achieve acceptable safety standards. There is an international practice that grades roads on star safety rates, with three-star ratings regarded as acceptable.

Out of 114 kilometres of roads in Addis Ababa surveyed by the International Roads Assessment Programme, 39Pct of the roads for motor vehicles are in a very poor condition while 14Pct are considered safe for pedestrians. With implementation of effective road design interventions, the strategy aims to raise three-stared roads for cars to more than 51Pct and close to 20Pct for pedestrians during the course of the implementation period.

The final priority identified by the strategy is commitment in management and leadership. The deputy mayor stressed the need to strengthen cooperation among the city’s various agencies, the public and international partners as the common challenge demands a common approach.

On top of the four priorities that are identified, the strategy underlined that development of road safety management system, increased focus on roads where trauma is most concentrated, awareness elevation, improvement in crash and injury data management and post-crash trauma response are the areas that requires attention.

The road safety strategy calls for effecting a combination of road design interventions, awareness creation campaigns, stricter enforcements and better management of incidents which will determine if indeed it will have a concrete outcome in altering the behaviour of all road users for Addis Ababa to become a true metropolitan, vibrant and safe for all its residents.

6th Year . November 2017 . No.55

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