Monday, March 27, 2017

Safer transport options for passengers: Series introduction

Complaints about minibus (marshutka) driving are common in Georgia. From excessive speeds, to erratic and distracted driving, minibus travel in Georgia is often less than safe and comfortable. But could a small change make an important difference in passenger safety and comfort? At CRRC-Georgia, we wanted to find out. Hence, CRRC-Georgia together with the Fund Partnership for Road Safety carried out the Safer Transit Options for Passengers (STOP) project within the East-West Management Institute’s (EWMI) Advancing CSO Capacities and Engaging Society for Sustainability (ACCESS) project, funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Within the project, we carried out a randomized control trial, which tested whether a small incentive – a gas voucher for safe driving – and telling minibus drivers that they would be monitored could improve marshutka driving. In the coming weeks, we will report the results of the randomized control trial and institutional analysis carried out within the project. In today’s post, we provide some background on road safety in Georgia.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Georgia has among the highest death rates on roadways in the wider European space.* The problem also appears to be getting worse: official figures from the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia show an increasing number of deaths on Georgian roadways. From 2013 to 2016, deaths increased from 514 to 602, a 17% increase. In 2016, 6,939 accidents took place, resulting in 602 fatalities and 9,951 injuries. At a per capita rate, this amounts to approximately 162 fatalities per million citizens, over three times the EU average in 2015, the latest year in which data is available.

While estimates do not exist for Georgia for how many accidents are caused by distracted and other dangerous driving practices, they are very likely contribute to the high fatality rates on the roads in Georgia. In the study we carried out, 96% of minibus drivers in the control group observations engaged in some form of dangerous or distracted driving.

When it comes to distracted driving, studies from other contexts suggest that a distracted driver’s chances of being in an accident are four times higher. Cell phone use is associated with increased incidence of accidents among both novice and experienced drivers. Cell phones aside, other distractions such as smoking can increase the risk of traffic accidents. Importantly, commercial vehicle drivers are no exception, with increased risk of accident associated with distracted driving among commercial drivers as well.

While we know that distracted and other dangerous driving practices among Georgia’s minibus drivers are both common and likely to be leading to fatalities in Georgia, feasible and effective policies are needed to reduce the scale of traffic accidents on Georgia's roadways. In the coming posts, we put forward a number of evidence based policy recommendations that could help do just that.

*Note: This blog post previously erroneously stated that Georgia had among the worst traffic death rates in the world, based on another article. After checking a primary data source, this statistic likely refers to the fact that Georgia has among the highest death rate in wider Europe.

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