Explaining the science and solutions for road safety

I WOULD like to highlight some scientific aspects of road crashes mentioned in the “World Report on Road Traffic Injury Prevention” issued by the World Health Organisation and World Bank (https://bit.ly/3v2ZneU).

Having contributed to the report, I wish to point out the relevant sentences verbatim to facilitate understanding and avoid any misinterpretations. These are:

1) (In Chapter 1, The Fundamentals, page 7) “The term ‘accident’, which is widely used, can give the impression, probably unintended, of inevitability and unpredictability – an event that cannot be managed. This document prefers to use the term ‘crash’ instead, to denote something that is an event, or series of events, amenable to rational analysis and remedial action.”

2) On page 10: “The traditional view in road safety has been that when crashes occur, they are usually the sole responsibility of individual road users, despite the fact that other factors beyond their control may have come into play, such as the poor design of roads or vehicles. It is still widely held today that since human error is a factor in some 90% of road crashes, the leading response should be to persuade road users to adopt ‘error-free’ behaviour. According to this policy, information and publicity should form the backbone of road traffic injury prevention, rather than being one element of a much more comprehensive programme.

“Human error on the roads does not always lead to disastrous consequences. Error by a road user, though, may indeed trigger a crash, but not necessarily be its underlying cause. In addition, human behaviour is governed not only by individual knowledge and skills, but also by the environment in which the behaviour takes place. Indirect influences, such as the design and layout of the road, the nature of the vehicle, and traffic laws and their enforcement – or lack of enforcement – affect behaviour in important ways. For this reason, the use of information and publicity on their own is generally unsuccessful in reducing road traffic collisions.”

3. On page 11: “None of the above contradicts the strict need for individuals to comply with key safety rules and to avoid dangerous situations.”

4. On page 12: “William Haddon Jr inspired safety professionals when he talked about road transport as an ill-designed, ‘man-machine’ system needing comprehensive systemic treatment. He defined three phases of the time sequence of a crash event – pre-crash, crash and post-crash – as well as the epidemiological triad of human, machine and environment that can interact during each phase of a crash.”

5. On page 16: “Rational decision-making in public policy is dependent on impartial research and information. Developing research capacity nationally is a central feature of the new model of road safety. Without research capacity, there exist few means to overcome misconceptions and prejudices about road crash injuries. National and community research – as opposed to relying solely on international research – is important for identifying local problems and localised groups at increased risk of road injury. It also helps to ensure a cadre of national and local professionals who can use research findings to calculate the implications for policy and programmes. Furthermore, the national evaluation effort needs to be led by research professionals, since it is only through implementation and thorough evaluation that effective programmes evolve. The independence of research and its separation from the executive function in developing public policy is necessary for ensuring quality and to protect the research body against short-term political pressures, but at the same time interaction between the two is essential.”

The scientific community should support a rational approach to the understanding and prevention of road traffic crashes and injuries. The government, Malaysian Institute of Road Safety Research and NGOs should play a bigger role to achieve the above objectives.


Senior professor AIMST University

(The writer is a former technical officer, Injury Prevention, at the WHO Western Pacific Regional Office, Manila.)

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