Road accident is currently a serious public health problem especially to middle and low income countries. Approximately 1.24 million people die every year on the world’s roads (on average 3,287 deaths a day) and 20-50 million people sustain non-fatal injuries. Over 90% of traffic accidents occur in low income and middle income countries which have only 48% of world’s vehicles. In Africa, death due to traffic accidents is highest among the most economically active segments of the population aged 15-59 years, and it constitute 25% of all injury related deaths.
In Eritrea, the incidence of road accident is among the top in the world, taking into account the number of vehicles and population. After a slight reduction from the previous years, traffic accidents increased by 15% in 2017. Believing that 85% to 95% of road accidents occur due to drivers’ negligence and the incidence of accidents can be minimized significantly, the UN has adopted a Decade of Action for Traffic Safety (resolution A/ RES/64/255) in 2010, which Eritrea is part of. This was a project initiated to save the loss of millions of dollars.
Road accidents are the leading cause of death among young people aged 15-29, and the second cause of death worldwide among young people aged 5-14. Road accidents rank as the 9th leading cause of death and account for 2.2% of all deaths globally. The global financial cost for the treatment vof road traffic injuries is 518 billion USD each year, costing individual countries from 1-4% of their annual GDP. Despite these facts, disasters such as plane crashes are given higher attention and publicity. Therefore, if road traffic accident destruction is given proper attention, public awareness about it will be increased.
Preventing these accidents would have an immense contribution to developing countries’ economies and reduce the socio-economic burden. In Eritrea, the damage caused by road accidents was estimated to be 3,005,893,289.00 Nkf in the years 2013 to 2017. In 2017 alone, the average cost of road accidents to Eritrean community was 400,000,000. Nkf. But there is under reporting of crashes; hence the overall cost is estimated to be around 544million Nkf i.e. a 36% increase.
The need to improve road safety was acknowledged by the Eritrean government early in the post-independence years. The Eritrean Road Traffic Safety Association (ERTSA) was established in 1995 and has been conducting activities concerned with safety and sustainable road transportation. In its third annual conference on 23rd June, 2018, ERTSA looked at annual reports and deliberated on various initiatives to reduce the incidence of road accidents.
ERTSA conducts public awareness campaigns about the knowledge of road users to influence behavioral change and its activities are conducted as a continuation of projects laid before. Road safety requires participation of people from many different disciplines, such as engineers, law enforcement officers, health professionals and community members. ERTSA’s aim is to reduce the number of deaths and injuries from road traffic accidents, serving as an incentive for action towards accelerating progress in achieving a much-needed reduction in road traffic deaths.
Road safety is an important development issue because road accidents, in addition to being a major public health issue, cause death and injuries, and result in costs and economic losses, including those arising from medical treatment, lost productivity for the disabled, and time off work or school taken by family members to care for the injured. Reducing the incidence of accidents and the damage they inflict have important benefits that relate to other sustainable development goals.
The Eritrean traffic police has enacted laws that administer road safety that can be effective in improving road user behavior and reduce road traffic injuries and deaths that relate particularly to the main risk factors for road safety: speed, drunk-driving, failure to use of motorcycle helmets and seat-belts, child restraints and others. Strict implementation of the traffic rules is necessary and violators should be fined heavily for breaking the rules. ERTSA is considering the amendment of the current traffic laws to make them tough to offenders. To minimize the incidence of accidents committed by public transport vehicles, the traffic police launched campaigns as a pilot project in Mendefera. This project has proved to be successful and will be replicated in other regions.
The law that requires the use of reflectors has been enacted. Most accidents occur at night due to the invisibility of road users. Therefore, the campaign to use reflective materials at night is underway and will be made compulsory to all road users. For example, a driver can notice the movement of a vehicle 17 meters away if the vehicle or pedestrian don’t have a reflector, but the use of reflectors increases visibility to 152 meters. This allows a driver adjust his his speed and avoid any potential accident. Today, in the developed countries, all road users use reflective stickers. In Eritrea, this was introduced in students’ and workers’ uniforms and proved to be helpful in preventing accidents due to invisibility. The Central Region distributed various reflective materials donated by Total, the Eritrean community in Sweden and Mrs. Hana Paulos from Norway.
The mirrors that were installed on the road sides of Asmara- Massawa were damaged through time. Taking this into account, with the cooperation of Total Ministry of Transportation and Communication, the substitution with non-fragile stainless-steel is underway. And to increase the awareness of the local communities, the traffic police will give seminars to schools and local inhabitants.
An accident can be caused by any road user. Therefore, we must harmonize our efforts to mitigate the damage caused by road accidents and to increase awareness about road safety. A suitable road safety curriculum for schools in Eritrea also needs to be designed.