As the UN launched its Road Safety Decade, let’s learn lessons from the countries having the safest roads
The United Nations on July 5, launched its “decade for action” on road safety as the menace has been consuming 13 lakh lives across the world each year.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), road traffic accidents kill more people around the world than malaria, and are the leading cause of death for young people aged five to 29 – especially in developing countries. Each year up to 50 million people are injured in traffic accidents, globally.
Road traffic crashes are a public health and development crisis. Every day, road traffic crashes claim nearly 3,500 lives and injure thousands more. What is more worrying is the fact that Indian roads accounts for maximum deaths in the world. India lost 1.46 lakh people in 2016 alone. China with a competing population and vehicular density was slightly behind at 96,611 deaths in 2016. While the figures for the United Kingdom was 3296 and for United States of America it was 42,642.
Road accidents are the ninth leading cause of death globally. However, this does not have to be an inevitable reality, with many countries proving that even with surging levels of motorisation, roads can be made safer. From completely redesigning roads to introducing zones for pedestrians, here are a few of these countries that have, through government-lead policy and research intervention, successfully managed to significantly reduce their road accident-related death and injury figures.
life loss unacceptable
With the safest roads in the world, Sweden is the perfect example of a holistic approach to road safety done right. In 1997, Sweden adopted a ‘Vision Zero’ policy based on the idea that “no loss of life was acceptable” and that rather than trying to alter human behavior, the focus should be on designing a better system of roads and other infrastructure, vehicle technology and enforcement.
Today, the country has low-speed limits, pedestrian zones, and segregated vehicular traffic. One of the most successful safety measures, according to authorities, is the ‘2+1’ roads. These are 3-lane roads that have two lanes dedicated to vehicles moving in one direction and one for those heading in the other and these are altered every few kilometers. This prevents overspeeding and overtaking.
The authorities are also betting big on self-driving cars to bring down accident rates. In 2017, the Swedish Transport Ministry will be running a pilot program of autonomous cars in partnership with Volvo. In 2015, Sweden had a reported road accident death rate of 2.8 per 1,00,000. When the Vision Zero was launched, this figure was 7 per 1,00,000.
Apart from strictly enforcing speed limits and other road regulations (coupled with steep fines and punishments for offenders), Singapore deploys a lot of technology to keep drivers safe including ‘advanced warning lights’ that inform drivers about upcoming traffic lights and ‘Your Speed Signs’ that are live electronic signs which calculate and display the real-time speeds of vehicles.
Recently, Singapore has been making a push to improve pedestrian safety, particularly for children and the elderly. ‘Silver zones’ with lower speed limits, narrower lanes, and dividers between lanes to decrease the length to be walked at one stretch and allow senior citizens to rest in the middle of the crossing are being introduced in residential areas.
According to the government’s Annual Road Traffic Situation 2015 report, the number of casualties has been on a gradual, but steady, decline. In 2015, Singapore had 149 fatal accidents, significantly down from 1998’s 975.
In spite of being a country with predominantly mountainous terrain and a severe winter that can often hinder driving, Switzerland is consistently ranked among countries with the safest roads.
Switzerland has lower speed limits than most of its European counterparts. In built up areas, the limit is set at 50 km/hour. Compared to this, Sweden has a maximum limit of 70 km/hour while Norway has one of 80 km/hour. Besides this, Swiss authorities are also quite strict about drink driving. In fact, passengers travelling in the same car as a drunk driver are also considered liable and can lose their own licenses.
Until 1991, Japan’s road fatalities were on an upward trend, but a tightening of laws and government-led awareness programmes have managed to make its roads among the safest in the world. One of the biggest factors contributing to this has been the government’s focus on research to create and introduce safer infrastructure and traffic management systems.
Japan has a zero per cent blood-alcohol level standard for drivers and individuals caught driving under the influence can face imprisonment for up to 15 years. The country’s road safety policy focuses on reducing the number of on-road collisions and has earmarked areas that are safe for pedestrians.
Keep Headlights On, Even on a Sunny Day With some of the safest roads in the world, one of the interesting things about Norway’s road safety norms is that, regardless of the time or the visibility, having your headlights on while driving is mandatory. This, supposedly, decreases the risk of collision, as even on a bright sunny day, spotting a car with headlights on is easier.
According to its National Plan of Action for Road Traffic Safety 2014–2017, Norway aims to bring down its figure of fatalities and severe injuries by half by 2024. In 2015, 117 were killed and 693 people were severely injured in road accidents. These figures have gone down by roughly more than 40 per cent in the last decade, being 224 deaths in 2005.
In general, rules are strict and all kinds of aggressive driving (such as risky overtaking) is regarded as an offense in the country.
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