Category: Global Health, Health Magazine

Title:Simple Ways to Safer Roads

One important health consequence associated with increased mobility is often neglected—even though it factors among the fastest growing threats to global health.

As countries become wealthier, residents seek increased mobility, and more vehicles and drivers hit the roads. In the absence of adequate and enforceable safety regulations, more traffic produces greater injuries and fatalities. In fact, the World Health Organization predicts that road fatalities will become the fifth leading cause of death worldwide by 2030. The threat is particularly acute in less developed nations that have weak infrastructure and often weaker traffic regulations.

James Habyarimana, PhD, and fellow Georgetown economist Billy Jack, PhD, have led undergraduates in research and fieldwork to test low-cost, low-tech interventions in Kenya to promote road safety and curb traffic fatalities in the public bus sector. What they have found is that often the simplest measures can be the most effective—and cost-effective.

Their Kenyan experiment has been scaled up, transforming into a campaign called Zusha! which means “Protest!” in Swahili, that deploys stickers to encourage public minibus passengers to speak up if the driver is being reckless. Now Habyarimana and Jack are working with regulatory organizations, including the National Transportation Safety Authority, to integrate this low-cost strategy into the country’s road safety programs.

“We are finding that the gap between the rich and poor countries really is mostly about behavior that results from poor enforcement of regulations,” Habyarimana says. “I’m motivated by research in which I can find little tweaks that have big impacts. Spending on programs to promote safer behavior on roads is one of the most cost-effective investments we can make in global health.”