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Sunday , 3 March 2024

DEVELOPING COUNTRIES: The Need for Traffic Management and Engineering

“Road Safety is a multi-sectoral and multi-dimensional issue. It incorporates the development and management of road infrastructure, provision of safer vehicles, legislation and law enforcement, mobility planning, provision of health and hospital services, child safety, urban land use planning, etc. In other words, its ambit spans engineering aspects of both, roads and vehicles on one hand and the provision of health and hospital services for trauma cases (in post-crash scenario) on the other. Road safety is a shared, multi-sectoral responsibility of the government and a range of civil society stakeholders. The success of road safety strategies in all countries depends upon a broad base of support and common action from all stakeholders.” – Sunder Committee on Road Safety and Traffic Management, 2007 New Delhi, India

“Transportation is an essential part of human activity, and in many ways forms the basis of all socio-economic interactions. Indeed, no two locations will interact effectively without a viable means of movement. In many developing countries, inadequate transport facilities are often the norm rather than the exception. Thus, a good transport system is essential to support economic growth and development.” – Nigerian Bureau of Statistics

The above statements lead us to the core issues of transportation and road safety in developing countries. In general, road environment, human and vehicle interactions are driving road systems. In an urban setting, there are additional influencing factors such as needs of vulnerable road users (VRUs) which include pedestrians, cyclists and two-wheelers who play a significant part. As shown in Figure 1, road environment factors contribute 28%, vehicle factors 8% and human factors 95% to road accidents (with an overlapping effect, the number exceeds 100%). The figure also suggests that significant benefits can be achieved by working on the interfaces using traffic engineering practice that will allow us to understand the needs and behaviour of road users.

Even though the developing countries’ share of the global vehicle population on their roads is very small, according to a WHO report, their contribution to global fatalities is disproportionately high. Around 85% of all global road deaths, 90% of the disability-adjusted life years lost due to crashes and 96% of all children kill worldwide as a result of road traffic injuries occur in low-income and middle-income countries.

India alone accounted for about 10% (118,000 in 2008) of the worlds road casualties. The Government of India (GOI) attributes the driver’s fault as the most important factor responsible for accidents, injuries and fatalities. Based on 2006 statistics the GOI suggests “drivers’ fault” as the cause of 77% of the total road accidents, 79% of the total number of persons injured, and 73% of the total number of persons killed in road accidents. However, these numbers and underlying casual factors are rarely discussed in the context of the (lack of) traffic management. Although they represent poor state of road safety, policy makers have yet to find ways to devise corresponding methods to deal with issues, particularly in the area of the mixed traffic conditions that is the norm in India and other developing countries.

According to the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE), traffic engineering can be defined as the phase of transportation engineering that deals with the safe and efficient planning, geometric design and traffic operations of roads, streets and highways, their networks, terminals, abutting lands and relationships with other motorised and non-motorised modes of transportation.

Traffic Management

Within the road infrastructure development programmes in India, policy makers must quickly assign a high and visible priority to devise and implement traffic management and road safety framework. Only with a high political priority can one hope to begin work to prevent, reduce and eliminate accidents, injuries and fatalities on roads. (At present no real political priority is visible in India and road safety remains a low key function in the overall road-building focus, although some may dispute this assertion). We also need trained and motivated traffic engineers for the management of traffic in cities like Delhi and Mumbai. We cannot even imagine running a chemical factory without a professional chemist who is trained in mixing just the right ingredients to develop a chemical or think in terms of a hospital being run without a medical doctor who knows how to read symptoms, interpret them and then treat patients accordingly. Unfortunately for traffic engineers who are trained to deal with traffic and its ill effects, their case has never entered the policy making process in developing countries. Sadly enough, no Indian city shows the presence of traffic engineers. This situation needs to be addressed quickly while we are on a spree of increasing the road capacity.

Transportation Role

Transportation affects every society (and every segment of a society) as a producer and supplier of “mobility”—an enabler—that serves all other infrastructure needs. Recognising such needs, many countries have recently embarked on a large-scale expansion of their road networks to spur growth and provide interconnectivity for all segments of their societies.

The implications and importance of traffic management and road safety issues are traced to the role transportation plays in developing countries as shown in Figure 3. It shows that transportation is an enabler and the lifeblood for the economy. It should be given the operational priority to deal with both road safety and traffic management in a single framework, a gap that currently exists in most developing countries. This can be labelled as the core issue. Without traffic management, the mobility of people and goods will continue to suffer resulting in congestion in urban areas. That will, in turn, hamper production and services, productivity, job creation and other social progress. If this situation continues, roads will continue to ‘produce’ a large number of casualties. If these needs are not accorded a high priority now, the epidemic will grow rapidly.

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