Road accidents are the leading cause of death in children ages 5 to 14 and the second leading cause in people ages 15 to 44 in Latin America. Buenos Aires (Argentina), Belo Horizonte (Brazil) and Montevideo (Uruguay) are among the cities with the highest road traffic injury and fatality rates in Latin America. From 1997 to 2009, more than 1,800 people died in traffic accidents in Buenos Aires, and between 2007 and 2009, more than 33,000 traffic injuries were registered. In Belo Horizonte in 2008, the traffic fatality rate was 20.1 per 100,000 people, and the hospitalization rate was 92.9 per 100,000 people. In Montevideo in 2009, the traffic fatality rate was 11.0 per 100,000 people; 34 per cent of the deaths were motorcycle related.
Towards a Solution
In 2010, in response to road traffic fatalities and injuries, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) launched its regional report on traffic injury prevention, followed by the 2011 Plan of Action on Road Safety that offered guidelines to Member States. Both policies have helped countries of Latin America to meet the goals for reducing road traffic deaths and injuries across the region. More specifically, PAHO launched, implemented and assessed a pilot initiative in 2010-2011 in three cities of the Southern Cone region. That initiative provided financial and technical assistance by organizing workshops in which representatives of those cities could share their best road safety measures and transfer both skills and technologies that responded to their local contexts, development, access to resources and city dynamics.
The pilot of the Road Safety Technical Cooperation Project between Southern Cone Cities implemented a methodology that facilitated knowledge-sharing among the three cities. While it required only a relatively small investment of about $150,000, the pilot was able to yield significant health and economic benefits in return while improving the cities capacity to target road traffic challenges. The project created three solutions to: (a) improve and strengthen the information systems of the three cities; (b) create a menu of options for good practices for road safety; and (c) develop community empowerment tools as a management model for road safety for each of the three cities. Those solutions also included the following measures:
- Belo Horizonte: analysis of crash events in mass media reports, road safety surveys, intervention approaches in hot spots, appointment of the Traffic Operation and Enforcement Unit, sustained investment in road signs, creation of the Trauma Academic Association and training of emergency teams;
- Buenos Aires: stronger drug and alcohol enforcement, the promotion of helmet use, implementation of a speed reduction programme, and road safety education; and
- Montevideo: a sustainable mobility programme, an enforcement programme for late hours (night) and a zero crash programme for private companies.
The project’s development results include the creation of methodologies to improve the collection of data, a memorandum of understanding between health agencies of the three cities to exchange data sets, the implementation of a road safety education programme in the three cities and the development of a methodology to facilitate the transfer of knowledge among actors from different countries. Results in specific cities include:
- Belo Horizonte: a decrease of 26 per cent in missing crash data, improved data on injuries sustained by road users and enhanced geo-referenced information;
- Buenos Aires: issuance of over 39,000 traffic tickets to motorcyclists, provision of 1,200 helmets to motorcyclists and issuance of 200,534 traffic tickets for alcohol consumption; and
- Montevideo: an 8-per cent reduction in drivers who consumed alcohol, training of 500 medical students in trauma prevention and a 60-per cent reduction in car crashes observed among private companies that participated in the road safety programme.
The project provides strong opportunities for South- South learning and exchange not only in terms of sustainability and transferability but also policy impact. Policies targeting road safety tackle the negative impacts in society beyond health, such as economic and family costs. Global losses resulting from road traffic deaths and injuries are estimated at $518 billion, while government costs, including health-care systems, range between 1 and 3 per cent of gross domestic product – more than the total amount that these countries receive in development assistance per year. For countries such as Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, the increase in traffic fatalities and injuries has a considerable impact and high economic and social costs, which in turn undermine other development needs that they must address.
The issue of traffic fatalities and injuries goes beyond the three Southern Cone countries. Further analysis shows a similar trend throughout the region and subregions. There are also cities with similar characteristics in other parts of the world, yet many lack an approach and a methodology that help them to design their own solutions to their common challenges. This projects methodology enables countries to access new measures adapted to city conditions and provides a sense of ownership and motivation in the exchange, dissemination and creation of measures. Its menu of options for road safety good practices offers the collection and systematization of measures that can be replicated in similar urban contexts in low- and middle- income countries to enhance road safety.