During the last decade, road safety has become an international public health crisis in low and middle-income countries with rapidly increasing motorization rates and changing socioeconomic patterns. But these countries are solving the problem with new partnerships that strengthen their public health systems as well as their economic development objectives.
Thanks to steadily growing annual incomes, the pace of vehicle ownership has increased in 70 countries, home to around 4 billion people. But more cars on the road translates into more injuries on the road. Within these middle-income countries, even a stabilization or limited drop in the frequency of road traffic injuries (RTIs) will be insufficient to compensate for the massive growth of their vehicle fleet.
There is a compelling case for the private sector to work alongside governments and civil society to reduce the burden of RTIs, which are estimated to cost low and middle-income countries (LMICs) 1 to 3 percent of gross domestic product. This role was defined in a recent UN General Assembly resolution declaring 2011-2020 the Decade of Action for Road Safety.
Harnessing the private sector’s unique ability to influence driver behavior is not a new idea. In countries with stable vehicle ownership rates, insurance companies and concession operators have long been in the vanguard delivering education, research, incentives, and infrastructure, as RTIs directly affect their bottom line. More recently, concession contracts have begun including explicit incentives tied to the achievement of pre-agreed road safety outcomes.
Roadmap to relief
Work-related trips—a category which includes professional drivers and salespeople but excludes commuting—account for upwards of 32 percent of vehicles in use across LMICs, representing a significant business and image risk. So corporations are modeling innovative ways to work with the public sector in the delivery of targeted road safety programs and international road traffic safety management standards. In LMICs, where comprehensive road safety legislation is often lacking, such programs can help spread good practices on the ground and ultimately encourage the adoption of stricter traffic safety laws.
Businesses also bring new resources, professional expertise, rigorous operating practices, and a culture of planning, innovation, and accountability, which complete the skill set sometimes lacking in governmental road safety agencies. The private sector often delivers leadership and name recognition to elevate RTI prevention campaigns as well. This leverages additional public resources and garners the attention of national policymakers. More resources and attention will ultimately guarantee that growth in the vehicle fleet tracks alongside awareness of how to manage that growth.