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By far the majority of fatal road crashes occur in developing countries. The statistic: 93% of the world’s 1.3-million road traffic deaths. Among them, Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest rate of road traffic deaths at 300,000 people in 2019. Almost half were pedestrians.

These bare facts don’t even begin to tell the story. It is primarily a human story about death and suffering, and the loss of loved ones. Alas, it is all too familiar in countries across the African continent.

The UN’s Second Decade of Action for Road Safety, now in its eighth month, aims to reduce road accidents in the world by 50% by 2030. This is to be achieved through a strategic approach focusing on five pillars, including road-safety management, safer vehicles, safer road users, post-crash response and safer driving environments.

For the World Health Organisation (WHO), the loss of lives and livelihoods, the disabilities caused, the grief and pain, and the financial costs caused by road traffic crashes add up to an intolerable toll on families, communities, societies and health systems. It says so much of this suffering is preventable by making roads and vehicles safer and by promoting safe walking, cycling and greater use of public transport. 

Roads indispensable in the developing world

Life in general, and economic life in particular, is unthinkable without roads and road users. For economic growth, and thus the lifting of the poor and left-behind out of poverty and lack of opportunity, roads are indispensable. This is particularly so in the developing world and has become a real challenge for Africa as the continent strives to deepen integration and grow trade among its 54 countries as rapidly as possible.

For the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) to accelerate economic and social prosperity, the safe and efficient movement of people and goods is fundamental. Roads are the most basic and essential mode of transport, the one that links all other transport forms into meaningful multi-modal networks.

Forming an important enabler for integration ambitions, our roads take people, goods and commodities within SA, they connect with the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) region, and beyond that link into the corridors of the continent. Viewing its role well beyond our borders, the SA National Roads Agency (Sanral) collaborates with other roads agencies in Africa on the exchange of knowledge and expertise, as well as technical collaboration.

Together Africa’s road authorities are moving towards a “safe system” approach, assessing road networks holistically to ensure engineering standards and a safe environment for all road-user groups. Beyond design and construction of roads, innovation and legislative harmonisation need be leveraged to raise the quality and safety standards of road development across the continent, with road safety among the key priority objectives.

Road safety interventions can come in various formats that include engineering, education and awareness programmes, the use of technology along with visible and effective law enforcement. The protection of the road pavement structure through curbing overloading practices also contributes to safer roads and this speaks to the challenge of harmonisation of heavy-vehicle standards across the continent.

Managing and mitigating risks on the road networks and corridors must become a key deliverable for Africa’s roads authorities.
Randall Cable, regional manager at Sanral

The ongoing debate about axle weight limits and contestation over the use of high cube containers given both the safety concerns and potential infrastructure damage of structures due to the height are just two examples of the challenges in ensuring alignment among the continent’s regional economic communities.

Managing and mitigating risks on the road networks and corridors must become a key deliverable for Africa’s roads authorities, with the aim of using feasible intervention tools such as road-safety engineering to create a more forgiving and self-explaining road environment, to protect pedestrians and cyclists and reduce the risk of severe injuries and fatalities when crashes occur.

In certain practical cases, once the road or corridor is built, communities, in wanting to be as close to the road as possible, open the door for ribbon development. Town and urban planning principles are not enforced and the interaction between the various roadusers becomes compromised in terms of safety as the road now begins serving both an accessibility and mobility function.

Proactive planning, design, construction and maintenance need to be benchmarked against sound engineering and asset-management best practice to ensure Africa’s roads can hold their own in terms of serving the needs of the people. Engineering alone cannot achieve the desired outcome as espoused by the UN Decade of Action — all the relevant pillars need to be acknowledged and a blended solution with a range of interventions put in place.

• Cable is regional manager for Sanral's western region.


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