Thursday 28th April 2005

 

Road safety

A crucial business issue

 
 
 
 
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In 2004, the World Health Organisation made road safety the theme of World Health Day to draw attention to the emergence of road traffic injuries as an international health issue with grave consequences and enormous economic and social costs to a country. Worldwide, road traffic accidents are ranked 11th as the leading cause of death and as second in the 5-14 and 15-29 age groups; third in the 30-44 age group; eighth in the 45-59 age group (WHO 2002).

The WHO has predicted that road accidents could be the third ranked cause of disease and injury by 2020, unless road safety measures feature in the forefront of public health efforts.

In T&T we have experienced an alarming growth in road accident deaths and injuries over the past few years. Between 1999 and 2003, accidents involving slight and serious injuries increased by a staggering 280 per cent from 1,539 in 1999 to 4,330 in 2003, while deaths increased by 12 per cent from 177 to 197 (based on CSO data). In the economically productive 15-44 age group, road accidents are ranked as the second major cause of death, overshadowed only by HIV/Aids.

While cross-country comparisons are tricky, the available data suggests that high rates of road accidents and deaths are a particular feature of middle income countries such as T&T and many of our Latin neighbours.

Unlike deaths from chronic diseases which tend to show a strong negative correlation with economic development, road accident deaths show a positive correlation—ie while the economy grows so do road deaths. The reason is obvious—more prosperity leads to more cars on the roads.

However, there comes a tipping point where the opposite relationship comes into play. Beyond a certain per capita GDP road deaths decrease as a cause of death. This is because in most developed countries there are aggressive road safety campaigns, well designed road networks, effective public transport systems and effective policing of traffic laws.

While our road death rate of 15.2 (deaths per 100,000 population) is one of the lowest in Latin America and the Caribbean compared with rates of 41.7 in El Salvador, 41.0 in the Dominican Republic and 25.6 in Brazil, it is approximately double the rate in many developed nations such as the UK (6.0), Norway (6.0), Japan (6.9), Denmark (8.0), Germany (8.0) and Canada (8.5) to name a few. If we wish to become a developed nation by 2020 improving road safety is a key policy issue that must be addressed.

The Government has to play the leading role in improving road safety and must treat road accidents and road death as a public health concern, ranked alongside HIV/Aids and other communicable diseases. The police authorities have a central role to play in reducing road accidents. In Costa Rica where road fatality was the third leading cause of death, police enforcement of seat belt and vehicle maintenance laws, integrated with prevention campaigns, proved effective in reducing the number of road deaths by ten per cent between 2003 and 2004.

In T&T there is clearly a need to implement new laws and regulations to ensure greater adherence to driving laws, including: the use of cameras; the introduction of a points system; legislation governing pedestrian crossing; legislation regarding maxi-taxi stops and most importantly drinking and driving legislation including testing of urine samples and the much-awaited breathalyser tests for suspected drunk drivers. There are also interventions that need to be made to improve the physical infrastructure, including construction of overhead pedestrian crossings and sidewalks and street lighting. It is important to note that pedestrians account for the many of the road fatalities in T&T (approximately 42 per cent).

Despite the central responsibility of government, it is also important to note that road safety is an important business issue in T&T. With the passage of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) government, labour and business interests have focused attention on health and safety on the jobsite. However, while they receive headline news, workplace fatalities are insignificant compared to road deaths, with a national total of three jobsite fatalities in 2003.

Even in high risk environments, workers are safer at work than on the way to and from the jobsite.

Also of importance is the economic burden of traffic accidents. The WHO estimates the cost of traffic accidents to be approximately one per cent of GDP for Latin American and Caribbean countries. An analysis of road traffic crashes, fatalities and injuries in T&T (St Bernard & Matthews) provided conservative estimates of US$ 6 million per year in health costs and US$ 14 million year as the burden placed on the private sector. The message is clear: companies need to be concerned about the safety of their employees outside of the factory gate and, in particular, their safety on the roads.

The STCIC believes that encouraging safe driving amongst employees and contractors and ensuring that employees and contractors drive in safe vehicles is a key issue of corporate social responsibility in T&T.

Companies need to make sure that they have clear policies in place on how their vehicles are used, both during work hours and after hours. The policies should include a policy on cellphone use, mandatory wearing of seatbelts and, probably most importantly of all, driving under the influence. They also have to ensure that their vehicles are well maintained and in a safe physical condition (eg ensuring that trucks are not overloaded).

Companies have a clear social responsibility to ensure that they do not cause harm to the public—this includes how they use public highways in conducting their business. They also have a responsibility to generally encourage responsible habits and behaviour amongst their employees, contractors and other stakeholders.

The STCIC fully endorses and supports the “Arrive Alive” campaign, entirely funded by the private sector, which was very effective in reducing road deaths (by an estimated 30 per cent) over the Carnival season when compared to the same period in 2004.

We urge the private sector to commit to this effort as well as it will only redound to the benefit of the entire society.

 

 

 

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