Counting the great cost of ignoring road safety

March 24, 2015. N2 accident brought the road to a close as a car rolled throwing its passengers all over the road the driver ended up in a ditch. Pic: Fredlin Adriaan. ©The Herald
March 24, 2015. N2 accident brought the road to a close as a car rolled throwing its passengers all over the road the driver ended up in a ditch. Pic: Fredlin Adriaan. ©The Herald

A new World Bank study has found that reducing road traffic deaths and injuries could result in substantial long-term income gains for low-and middle-income countries.

The study, funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies and named The High Toll of Traffic Injuries: Unacceptable and Preventable, introduces a new global methodology to calculate the economic effect of road safety and analyses the cases of China, India, the Philippines, Tanzania and Thailand.

While there is general recognition of road traffic injuries and fatalities, little is known about the link between road traffic injuries and economic growth. The new report quantifies how investments in road safety are an investment in human capital.

The study finds that countries that do not invest in road safety could miss out on between 7% and 22% in potential per capita GDP growth over a 24-year period. The reports says that this requires policy makers to prioritise proven investments in road safety. The cost of inaction is more than 1.25-million deaths a year globally diminished productivity and reduced growth prospects.

Road traffic fatalities disproportionately affect low and middle-income countries, where 90% of global road deaths occur, with SA contributing to that figure with between 14 000 and 16 000 deaths on our roads every year, costing the economy in excess of R143bn.

Rapid motorisation

Rising incomes in many developing countries have led to rapid motorisation, while road safety management and regulations have not kept pace.

Death rates from road traffic injuries are high in low and middle-income countries — in 2015 reaching 34 per 100 000 in the countries studied. According to a report by the World Health Organisation in 2015, SA’s figure stands at 25 road deaths per 100 000. By contrast, the average across the 35 countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in the same year was eight deaths per 100 000.

The greatest share of mortality and long-term disability from road crashes happen among the working-age population (between 15 and 64 years).

According to the report, deaths and injuries from road traffic crashes affect medium and long-term growth prospects by removing prime age adults from the workforce, and reducing productivity due to the burden of injuries. Using detailed data on deaths and economic indicators from 135 countries the study estimates that, on average, a 10% reduction in road traffic deaths raises per capita real GDP by 3.6% over a 24-year horizon.

Over the period 2014-38, halving deaths and injuries due to road traffic could potentially add 22% to GDP per capita in Thailand, 15% in China, 14% in India, 7% in the Philippines and 7% in Tanzania.


In addition to the GDP gains from preventing death and injury, road safety interventions improve welfare benefits to society. The World Bank study has quantified these gains for the five countries using a range of income and risk reduction scenarios. Measured in 2005 US dollars, the welfare gains range between $5 000 to $80 000 in Tanzania, and from $850 000 to $1.8m in Thailand.

To achieve these welfare gains the report lists interventions that include reducing and enforcing speed limits, reducing driving under the influence of alcohol, increasing seatbelt use through enforcement and public awareness campaigns, and integrating road safety in all phases of planning, design, and operation of road infrastructure.

“Traffic crashes kill more than 1.25-million people around the world each year and they also take a huge economic toll, with so much human potential being lost. Investments in road safety pay for themselves many times over, and hopefully this new report will spur governments to take actions that save lives,” says Bloomberg.

“Inspired by disease impact studies, this is one of the first systematic efforts to estimate both the potential economic benefits and aggregate social welfare gains of reducing road traffic injuries in low and middle-income countries,” says José Luis Irigoyen, World Bank senior director for Transport and ICT.

“Curbing road traffic injuries would not just be a victory for the transport sector but a milestone for global development, with far-reaching benefits for public health, wellbeing and economic growth.”

Road safety is an issue that affects everyone in SA whether it be witnessing bad and risky driving on the daily commute or worse, losing a loved one in a road crash. It also affects everyone economically, as this study shows, with the country losing out on revenue that could be used for other projects simply because road safety is not taken as seriously as it should be by policy makers. – BD Motor News