World Health Organization reports the death of more than 1.2 million people on world’s roads every year. More than 50 million others sustain severe injuries as a result of road accidents. Road traffic injuries are leading cause of death among people entering their productive age i.e. between 15 and 29 years. These road tragedies have vast pessimistic impacts on the sufferers directly and communities at large.
More than half of the victims of such accidents in the world are of pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists who are dubbed as “Vulnerable Road Users” (VRUs). A study revealed that 53% of deaths in traffic accidents in Pakistan are shared by the VRUs. Pedestrians, cyclists and motorised two and three wheelers make up more than 59% of the total road users in Pakistan. These are usually devoid of any kind of protective case or clothing around them and obviously are at greater peril than that of the users of four wheelers.
Unfortunately, Pakistan falls among countries whose 84% roads are lacking basic pedestrian facilities like foot path. Even the simplest forms of pedestrian crossing i.e. “Zebra Crossing” are available only in big cities. Pedestrian cross busy roads higgledy-piggledy and become the victims of speedy vehicles. On the other hand, bicycle is still common mode of transportation especially in rural areas and its engineering makes it easy prey of cruel hasty vehicles.
Roads in Pakistan are mostly constructed to cater the needs of four-wheel vehicles compromising the safety of more than half of the road users (Vulnerable Road Users). To reduce travelling time and to mitigate drivers’ fatigue, roads are being planned and built without giving reasonable attention to the issues of pedestrian and two wheelers. This laxity in road planning and engineering is further augmenting the safety issues of the VRUs, especially while walking alongside or crossing the roads. A significant decline in road accidents and fatalities will certainly happen if VRUs are given due consideration and their needs are also taken into account while designing the roads.
Little knowledge about road safety and the ignorance of traffic laws have worsened the ever distressing situation on roads. In Pakistan, commuters use road with a mindset that traffic accidents are inevitable and predetermined. Subsequently, the traffic accidents are linked with ill-fate rather the virtual cause. Indeed, mostly traffic collisions of Vulnerable Road Users are predictable, hence preventable.
The rapid increase in number of vehicles is making our roads more dangerous for pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists. Speedy roads are being constructed without provision of safe routes for pedestrians and exclusive lanes for bicycles and motorcycles. In the absence of safe infrastructure policies, walking and cycling cannot be promoted as an alternate transport. Potential risks of getting injured while cycling makes the mind of public to purchase cars for a safer journey. Present situation of traffic congestion in our cities is outcome of this poor transport planning and defective infrastructure designing. Road infrastructure has failed to keep pace with high rates of motorisation, resultantly risks of road traffic accidents and injuries have also been increased exponentially.
In recent years the protection of occupants inside the vehicle coupled with the protection of commuters outside the vehicle has remained main focus by road safety experts. Global vehicle safety standards are mean to minimise the crash impacts on VRUs. Lowering the height of front bumper and provisions of exterior air bags at bonnet of vehicles in developed countries along with Crash Avoidance System in cars has improved the safety of VRUs. But in Pakistan all kinds of transport vehicles are fitted with bull barriers, made of stiff iron bars, on their front. These barriers highly increase the severity of injuries sustained by vulnerable road users. Fixation of bull barriers is illegal alteration in the vehicle which should be dispirited through extensive road safety education and prolonged enforcement interventions.
Exclusive lanes for cyclists and motorcyclists have proved an effective measure to lower traffic collisions in many countries of world. We should learn from such experiences and should adopt these established best practices. After the segregation of motorcycle lane from other vehicles in Malaysia 39% accidents were reduced while 84% reduction in motorcyclists’ deaths was recorded. Cyclists’ casualties were declined by 35% in Denmark after the provision of separate tracks for bicycles. Partition between high speed vehicles and vulnerable road users will not only end the conflict between these two but it will improve traffic discipline, safety and efficiency of whole transport system.
Change in behaviour of Vulnerable Road Users is another critical component of their safety needs to be addressed. Although there is scarcity of properly engineered pedestrian crossings but the available facilities are being utilised sparsely as well. Likewise violation of one way is very protuberant among several other traffic violations by cyclists and motorcyclists. They usually ride with an understanding that they are out of the purview of traffic laws. Safety helmet for cyclists and motorcyclists is a crucial gadget to mitigate the severity of injuries in case of an accident. Unfortunately majority of two wheelers in Pakistan are using it a gizmo to escape police fine. Over speeding and wheelie by young motorcyclists have become a thrilling activity. These risky behaviours being contagious in nature are engulfing young innocent riders.
Traffic calming measures particularly on roads where Vulnerable Road Users are mixed with other traffic, user friendly infrastructure and policies that encourage walking and cycling safely and provision of quality public transport can be helpful measures to mitigate road crashes. Underage two wheeler riding, enforcement of side view mirrors, provision of storage lanes for motorcyclists, lights or reflecting material on bicycles’ back, introduction of bicycle helmet, and daytime running lights for motorcycle are some of proven interventions that should be exercised to ensure the safety of two wheelers.
The safety of vulnerable road user needs a comprehensive planning and active participation of all stakes holders. Mass road safety awareness programmes, user friendly infrastructures for pedestrians, motorcycle safety helmet promotions, right of way campaigns, provision of sustainable urban transport, introduction of new regulations and fair law enforcement can guarantee a tangible reduction in injuries and sufferings of vulnerable road users.