Smart cities, foolish roads

Building smart cities requires an unwavering commitment to road safety

Smart cities, foolish roads


hile the developed world is seeing an unprecedented proliferation of smart cities, Pakistan is engulfed in a perplexing battle between unplanned urbanisation and concerns for road safety and traffic management. The large number of road accidents has pushed the country’s pursuit of modernisation to the sidelines so that focus can remain on preserving human lives. The catastrophic road safety situation in Pakistan is underscored by alarming statistics that paint a grim picture of the nation’s struggle with urbanisation and infrastructure.

According to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, approximately 35,000 to 40,000 people succumb to road accidents every year, with an estimated 50,000 sustaining severe injuries. This translates to an average of 100 fatalities per day and an economic loss of around 2-3 percent of the GDP. The World Health Organisation’s Global Status Report on Road Safety 2018 highlights that Pakistan has a road traffic death rate of 27.5 per 100,000 population, considerably higher than the global average of 18.2. These figures not only shed light on the dire state of road safety in the country but also emphasise the urgent need for transformative measures to prevent further loss of life and economic setbacks.

Road accidents plague Pakistan as urban sprawl continues and the clamour for transportation intensifies. Despite governmental endeavours to mitigate the issue, fatalities have been increasing. A recent essay on road accidents attributes the leading causes to vehicular collisions and constricted roadways. The frensied urbanisation of Pakistan’s metropolises, coupled with flawed planning and insufficient investment in infrastructure, has spawned a perilous concoction of tumultuous traffic and harrowing road safety ordeals.

Smart roads, employing state-of-the-art technology to improve road safety, traffic management and the overall driving experience, are integral to smart cities. Such roads herald a promising future of transportation characterised by heightened accessibility, efficiency and eco-friendliness. However, Pakistan’s arduous struggle to embrace smart roads and assimilate them into existing urban frameworks accentuates the colossal challenge of reconciling urbanisation with road safety. A road safety audit (RSA) is a comprehensive, multidisciplinary examination of extant or prospective roads that scrutinises potential safety hazards and explores opportunities for improvement. Although RSAs are prevalent in developed countries, their implementation in Pakistan is woefully limited, indicating a conspicuous gap in the nation’s approach to road safety and underscoring the need for a more inclusive strategy.

As Pakistan confronts the daunting task of constructing smart cities amid chaotic roads, a holistic approach to urban planning, infrastructure and road safety is indispensable.

A viable intervention to augment road safety could be to curtail mobile phone use while driving. Novice drivers, prone to disregarding traffic regulations or succumbing to speeding, are especially susceptible to accidents due to distracted driving. Enforcing more stringent laws surrounding phone use could reduce accident rates and cultivate a culture of responsible driving. As Pakistan confronts the daunting task of constructing smart cities amid chaotic roads, a holistic approach to urban planning, infrastructure, and road safety is indispensable. The nation must contemplate inventive solutions such as smart roads, thorough road safety audits, and stricter legislation to ensure that its quest for modernisation does not transpire at the expense of human lives.

In the words of a transport safety expert from New York, “A smart city is only as smart as its roads.“ Pakistan has a singular opportunity to learn from international best practices and harness the prowess of technology in building safer, more sustainable cities. The journey may be riddled with hurdles but the potential rewards – fewer accidents, better traffic low, and improved quality of life – make it a challenge worth undertaking. As the nation embarks on this ambitious voyage, collaboration with global organisations and experts is imperative. Drawing on the experience of successful road safety initiatives in other countries can enable Pakistan to sidestep common pitfalls and expedite its progress. The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), for instance, has played a pivotal role in advocating road safety in Europe. By forging close ties with organisations like the UNECE, Pakistan can devise context-specific strategies and capitalise on the expertise.

Urban planners and policymakers must concentrate on cultivating walkable, bike-friendly cities that prioritise the safety of vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and cyclists. The European Commission’s updated requirements for driving licences aim to contribute to its Vision Zero – having no deaths on EU roads by 2050. Implementing analogous measures in Pakistan could prove instrumental in reducing road fatalities and turning urban spaces into secure, inclusive environments. Public awareness and educational campaigns are equally important in fostering road safety. Citizens must be apprised of traffic rules, prudent driving practices and the potential ramifications of reckless behaviour. These endeavours can be bolstered by targeted enforcement campaigns, with traffic police cracking down on perilous driving and transgressions of road safety regulations.

It is essential also to invest in data-driven decision-making and performance monitoring. This entails collecting and scrutinising data on road accidents, pinpointing high-risk locations and patterns, and utilising this information to inform targeted interventions. By leveraging data and avant-garde technology, Pakistan can optimise its traffic management systems and enhance road safety for all citizens. The pursuit of smart cities and urbanisation in Pakistan must be intertwined with an unwavering commitment to road safety. By embracing innovative solutions, collaborating with global experts, and prioritising the needs of all road users, the country can surmount the challenges of disorderly traffic and construct cities that are genuinely smart, safe, and sustainable. The road ahead may be lengthy and serpentine, but armed with a lucid vision and efficacious strategies, Pakistan can chart out a way for a brighter, safer future.

The writer is an assistant professor at the School of Sociology, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad. He can be reached at

Smart cities, foolish roads