Sunday December 10, 2023

Pakistan’s road safety in dire straits

March 11, 2022

The rapid expansion of motorisation over the years in Pakistan has seen a sharp rise in road traffic-related fatalities and injuries. According to a World Health Organisation report, road traffic injuries are the leading cause of death for young people aged between 5 and 29 years. Globally, 1.35 million people perish each year in road crashes whilst another 20 to 50 million are injured on roads, annually. More than 90 per cent of the road fatalities on roads occur in low- and middle-income countries, even though these countries have 60 per cent of the world’s vehicles.

While developed nations of course have their fair share of traffic-related deaths, they have the abundant resources and manpower to take steps that reduce the occurrences of accidents on roads. With a developing country like Pakistan however, that number rises exponentially. The number of fatalities that occur due to road accidents is grossly underreported. WHO reports an estimated 27,582 people die annually in the country -- or 14.3 deaths per 100k -- and another 50,000 end up with some disability.

Outdated road safety laws, insufficient law enforcement, lack of traffic safety education, inadequate road infrastructure and post-accident care, questionable road worthiness of vehicles, inadequate road safety management from authorities, insufficient safety regulations and vehicle standards, etc. are some of the factors that pose a serious challenge to public health and need immediate action.

The need of the hour is an extensive study that evaluates current traffic conditions in Pakistan, and then propose a new strategy to systematically change the way the authorities, enforcers and the public think about road safety laws and their implementation.

Many efforts by individuals and organisations have been conducted to create the political will to improve traffic safety on the national level. These efforts consisted of traditional approaches such as the political will to commit resources, establishing an institutional framework to coordinate activities concerning traffic safety, developing goals and sub-goals, gathering scientific evidence of the magnitude of the threat, identifying deficiencies in the current traffic safety system, and developing a social strategy for organising effective interventions. However, the efforts were unsuccessful in affecting the decision-making process and the existing policy to prioritise traffic safety and to consider the problem as a public health issue. While it is clear that the current strategy for improving road safety in Pakistan is largely ineffective, certain aspects and interventions could still contribute in part to the long-term goal and strategies to improve road safety in the country.

It would not be wrong to say that the rapid increase in the use of private car transport, upgrading old roads and constructing new roads that do not meet safety standards, and the lack of driver education have, over the years, built up and led to increasing traffic accidents.

Improving traffic safety in Pakistan requires a strong political will, an institutional framework to coordinate activities, feasible goals, funding from the national budget and interventions based on scientific evidences.

This is not to say that efforts have not been made towards the betterment of road safety standards in the country. In fact, Pakistan has accelerated efforts to improve road safety infrastructure and implementation. Quite recently, the International Road Federation (IRF), based in Switzerland, supported by TotalEnergies Foundation, entered into a partnership to use their combined knowledge and expertise to reduce road fatalities and injuries in the country. The founding members of this Coalition Charter includes Indus Motor Company, Honda, TOTAL PARCO Pakistan, Shell Pakistan, Unilever Pakistan Limited, PARCO Pearl Gas Limited, Coca Cola Pakistan, Engro Fertilizers Limited and Niaz Malik Consultants.

The project aims to mobilise and federate private sector stakeholders to support road safety efforts in Pakistan and to substantially improve road safety via hands-on, impact-oriented and scalable activities.

It is hoped that these trends will continue and that all countries will, through joint programmes of research and development and by sharing information, maintain an effective and scientific approach to reducing road accidents throughout the world.

The UN has declared 2021-2030 as the Decade of Action for Road Safety; its goal is to reduce road traffic deaths and injuries by 50 per cent over the ten years.