Proactive rather than ‘The Hindenburg’ response

I had a conversation recently with a colleague who is a tireless worker in the safety of pedestrians, and his comment regarding policy response resonated with me so much that I thought I would share it with you. He likened policy response to road safety to the Hindenburg Disaster of 1937 (see www.airships.net/hindenburge/disaster for more information), such that improvements in safety only occur after tragic, highly-visible critical events. This policy response, which certainly is an important one, is frequently characterised by ‘too little, too late’. My colleague found this particularly frustrating when policy based in sound risk assessments and a plethora of evidence-based research can prevent – or at least minimise – the damage from catastrophe in the first place.

Whilst myself and my colleague are lucky enough to live, work, and indeed use the road environment in a developed country, evidence-based policy and practical responses are never more urgently needed than now in developing countries. The plight of these countries was highlighted in a recent The Economist article (read more at http://www.economist.com/news/international/21595031-rich-countries-have-cut-deaths-and-injuries-caused-crashes-toll-growing). What we in ‘rich countries’ refer to as vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and motor and pedal cyclists are never more vulnerable than when using the road networks of the developing world.

Interestingly, cost cannot be the only obstacle, with The Economist article stating that

iRAP has helped to build fences to separate pedestrians from traffic in Bangladesh, at a cost of just $135 to avert a death or serious injury; and installed rumble strips on hard shoulders in Mexico to alert drivers when they are veering from their lane ($920). Telling people about safety laws—and then making those laws stick—can be surprisingly affordable and effective, too. The share of people wearing seat belts in Ivanovo, Russia, rose from 48% in 2011 to 74% in 2012, after a police crackdown and social-media campaign partly paid for by Bloomberg Philanthropies, the foundation of Michael Bloomberg, New York’s former mayor and one of the few big aid donors to spend heavily on road safety. Dan Chisholm of the WHO calculates that enforcing speed limits and drunk-driving laws in South-East Asia would cost just 18 cents per person per year.”

I would argue that a part of our role as injury prevention practitioners, professionals and researchers in ‘rich countries’ is to help in the journey to identify, then remove or ameliorate, obstacles to developing nations maximising the benefits of our knowledge and experiences.

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