Look Both Ways! Ensuring Road Safety in Economic Development News Feed

Through the windshieldRoad projects that aid development in poor countries can also lead to an increase in traffic deaths. But, as noted in “Reinventing the Wheel” (The Economist, January 25–31) those deaths can be minimized by devoting a portion of road budgets to safety.

When evaluating transportation and infrastructure projects for aid agencies, Nathan Associates takes into account safety concerns. We examined driver and pedestrian safety in a November 2009 study assessing the environmental impact of improvements to Moldova's M2 highway (Sarateni—Soroca—Unguri), a projected supported by the Millennium Challenge Corporation. The study, noting the ''alarming'' level of traffic accidents in Moldova, reviewed the road design for its effect on reducing accident rates, especially for pedestrians.

Safety was an ''urgent issue'' because the M2 highway passes through several villages. Traffic signs and lights were lacking, and major concerns included ''the safety of children, women, street vendors, and pedestrians at large." The project design emphasized physical interventions that caused drivers to slow down. The study found that the design provided for adequate signs, speed limits, and protection at crossings, to name a few measures, and concluded that the project’s potentially significant threat to safety had been reduced to “less-than-significant.''

Overloaded trucks threaten human safety in addition to damaging roads. Our recent USAID-sponsored corridor diagnostic study and action plan of transportation in East Africa and South Sudan called for a strategy to control overloads and recommended spending on weighbridges (truck scales), regulatory changes to penalize transport companies (not only drivers), and road maintenance. A 2006 study on privatizing Malawi's passenger bus service said Malawi had ''a disproportionate number of accidents in comparison to its vehicle population'' and, according to sources interviewed for the study, concluded that enforcement of the Road Traffic Act was hampered by corruption as well as a lack of resources.

Nathan Associates has expertise in infrastructure economics and planning, covering facilities, logistics, and regulatory environments for ports, airports, road, and rail transport, as well as water systems and telecommunications in developing countries. Carlos Espíndola, a certified professional engineer on Nathan's staff, coordinated the Moldova study.

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