Driving slower for safer lives and calmer streets
Based on the Stockholm Declaration by the third global ministerial conference on road safety in 2020, the United Nations this year has called on the member countries to implement 30 kilometres per hour speed limit in the streets and thoroughfares. The theme “Streets for Life #Love30” for this year’s Road Safety Week (17-23 May) draws on an ample amount of studies and implementation evidence from a number of countries around the world.
The 18-point commitment charter of the Stockholm Declaration in its point #11 calls on the governments to “Focus on speed management, including the strengthening of law enforcement to prevent speeding and mandate a maximum road travel speed of 30 km/h in areas where vulnerable road users and vehicles mix,” and notes that “efforts to reduce speed, in general, will have a beneficial impact on air quality and climate change as well as being vital to reducing road traffic deaths and injuries.”
Studies and evidence gathered by the World Health Organization identify speed as a key risk factor in road traffic injuries, causing both the risk of a road crash and the severity of injuries resulting from the crashes. Nearly 1.3 million people die in road traffic crashes every year in the world with an average of more than 3000 deaths every day. Of the lives claimed, nearly 400,000 are of people below 25 years of age (Source: WHO 2018).
This sad scenario is particularly true for Bangladesh, where the age range for most people dying due to road crashes is 15-35 years. Besides the fact that they were in the most productive period of their lives, many were only or crucial earning members of their families.
The Global Status Report on Road Safety 2018 estimates the yearly average figure of deaths in Bangladesh at 24,954 people, corresponding to 15.3 deaths per 100,000 populations. It also states that 54% of victims of all road crash casualties in the country are pedestrians, most of whom are males, followed by a high number of school-age children.
To reduce road crashes and save lives, livelihoods, and thousands of families from the crippling impacts of these incidents, Bangladesh should now give serious thought to imposing and consistently maintaining the 30kmh rule in roads and streets with frequent pedestrian movement.
In the Bangladesh context, however, stretches of highways should also be brought under this consideration as schools, market centres, prayer spots, and other places are often situated adjacent or very near to the highways.
Ample evidence from around the world shows that low-speed streets reduce the risk of serious injuries, especially for pedestrians, school-age children, and other vulnerable road users. Reduced speed allows vehicles to stop in time, while speed also affects the forces involved in a crash, increasing the risk of deaths and serious injuries.
Among industrially developed countries, Norway and Sweden have already achieved Vision Zero of eliminating death and serious injuries from road collisions. Finland, another Scandinavian country also records steady progress: The capital Helsinki had no deaths from road collision in 2020. In the Norwegian capital of Oslo, not only were there zero pedestrian or cyclist deaths but in the entire country, there were no under-16 deaths caused by traffic crashes.
Contrary to the popular view that low-speed zones can be created only in high-income countries, such zones have also been successfully implemented in developing countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. In many cases, these zones have been created around schools, such as Amend’s School Area Road Safety Assessments and Improvements (SARSAI) in Tanzania, which won the prestigious Ross Prize for Cities in 2019.
The initiator of the award, WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, which is a programme of the World Resources Institute, praised the Tanzanian initiative for the “simplicity of its evidence-based approach to reversing the escalating crisis of road traffic deaths and injuries” and for being “highly replicable, in a short time, expanding from two high-risk school areas in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, to more than 50 high-risk school areas in nine countries.”
Zambia, another African country also has started to reap the benefits of driving slower by introducing lower speed limits around schools and areas with high pedestrian flow.
The environmental benefits are also evident in studies showing that cities with pro pedestrian and cyclist policies can contribute to 11% cuts in urban carbon emissions by 2050.
Road crashes are preventable. It is high time Bangladesh took the cue from other countries with similar socioeconomic status to implement measures that would decisively cut the casualties and damages resulting from road crashes.
This year’s road safety week brings us a crucial message, paying heed to which will only benefit us for the present and future. Imposing speed limit of 30kmh around schools and other spots of high pedestrian frequency, along with promoting walking and cycling in lower speed zones will not only create a healthier Bangladesh but a greener Bangladesh too.
Sabrina Shahab is a development practitioner with Road Safety Programme at BRAC.