Worldwide, road crashes are the ninth single biggest cause of death, killing 1.2 million people every year. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that this could rise to 2.4 million by 2020, with 85 percent of this increase being in low and middle income countries. Road traffic crashes cost developing countries a stunning 1 to 2 percent of their gross domestic product (GDP). However, relative to the problem of disease, road safety research receives little funding especially in low and middle income countries.
In 2004 the United Nations passed a resolution calling on rich nations to help developing nations improve their road safety. In the same year the WHO asked the International Road Safety Academy to develop a program for Ethiopia. However, even with those incentives, Ethiopia seems to be very slow in producing results.
Ethiopia is considered to have some of the most dangerous roads in the world. The rate of death is 136 per 10,000 vehicles. According to the Ethiopian Road Transport Authority, 48 percent of deaths attributed to road crashes involve pedestrians, more specifically students, 45 percent passengers and 7 percent drivers. As a result, a national road safety committee was established to facilitate and lead the efforts to reduce the number of traffic accidents. Their objective is to decrease the number of fatalities to 60 people per 10,000 vehicles for a start.
Officially 81 percent of crashes in Ethiopia are attributed to driver error with chewing Khat as the major contributor to driver impairment. Most people avoid traveling at night primarily because that is when truck drivers are likely to be tired or driving under the influence of Khat. These drivers are regarded so dangerous that their trucks are commonly referred to as “al Qaeda”. There is also the issue of driving under the influence of alcohol that is still a major problem in cities. Although the law against drinking and driving has been around for a while, it still remains to be a common occurrence; as no one apparently stays up late to make sure that drivers are following the rules.
Ironically, people who like having a couple of drinks to relax and have fun do not seem to understand that driving under the influence of alcohol equals to potentially digging your own grave. In short, driving while drunk is an absolute idiotic thing to do.
Over the past years, many steps have been taken to bring awareness about traffic safety in Ethiopia; there have been TV and radio shows as well as billboards around the city conveying the message of safety. In addition the further empowering of organizations such as the Federal Transport Authorities, the imposing of heftier fines for traffic violations and a mix of revised laws that set a uniform standard in the issuance of driver’s license have also helped.
To get a driver’s license now is not as easy as it used to be back in the day. Now to have your license you have to go through a two week class on the theoretical part of driving; you learn about the mechanical and electrical parts of the car, traffic signs, rules, laws and more. Attendance is required for these classes or people will not be allowed to sit for the exam. After you pass the theoretical examination you experience driving for at least 23 hours and go through the practical examination.
Ethiopia was one of the few countries where third-party liability insurance was not a legal obligation until the law was implemented this year. That and improved accesses to emergency medical care is expected to lower the traffic accident death toll. At least one person dies out of every five car accidents occurring in the country. Most of the victims die due to lack of receiving proper medical assistance on time. Experts say that if there was a swift medical response to those victims, the death toll will be cut in half.
The laws on wearing a seatbelt and not using cellular phones while driving have also been implemented and enforced as recently as 2010. Wearing a seatbelt plays a major role in saving lives; logically it should have been part of the first laws that were enforced a long time ago. There are still some driving laws that need to be enforced like having a car seat for children of certain age.
The effect of traffic accidents in a developing country like Ethiopia where there are no social security services is devastating. It helps perpetuate poverty as families struggle with habitation costs or funeral expenses. While the efforts of raising awareness are very encouraging, results show that there is still a long way to go. WHO projects road traffic injuries will be the fifth-leading cause of death globally by the year 2030.
As Traffic Safety Awareness Week is being celebrated since April 12th to 18th in Addis Ababa, let’s all make a little effort to educate ourselves and others on the issue. Those of us who drive, let us be composed and make good decisions. Those of us who walk to places, let’s get rid of the mentality that cars have breaks and they always work. And those of us who would rather jump over the railings of the ring road instead of using the over pass, let’s remember that it is not worth losing body parts or a life over that, and that’s exactly what’s going to happen, eventually. Have a safe and very happy Easter!