|The good news and bad news about road safety|
|June 27, 2008|
June 27, 2008
Road safety is a significant concern in Georgia due to a number of reasons, including culture, education and government funding. This in turn has a serious affect on Georgian society, the economy and even tourism.
There is some good news though, in some areas of road safety, but to significantly improve the current situation, much more needs to be done.
I choose to start with the bad news first as Georgians are now planning their family holidays to the Black Sea coast. It is a difficult subject to talk about, but attention needs to be drawn to this sobering topic. The truth is that some families or individuals won’t make it to their holiday destination this summer. Georgia has some of the worst road death statistics in the world and it is so bad that I will not let my daughter travel by car outside of Tbilisi; instead she will travel by train. It is getting to the stage that almost the whole population has friends or family either killed or hurt in road accidents. In the last three months I have both attended a funeral where the individual died from an accident and witnessed a serious car crash just outside of Tbilisi.
The World Bank is involved in improving road safety awareness and I attended a conference last year where they presented some figures that showed how road deaths and accidents in Georgia significantly affect the economy. The figures presented at the conference estimated that 160,000 USD per year or 2% of GDP is lost due to physical damage of vehicles, roads, property and loss of income that would have been generated by the injured or deceased victims.
Surprisingly, another disturbing factor in Georgia’s road safety statistics is that many more pedestrians here are at danger than pedestrians in most other countries. This is in part due to villages located along the highway, where pedestrians need to cross the road and navigate through cars traveling at velocities of 120 plus kilometers per hour. It can also be explained by the dangerous way that Georgians, including myself, cross busy streets, waiting precariously on the median line looking both ways and then making a dash to the other side when a pause opens up in the almost constant traffic flow.
So, is there good news coming? Well, there are some elements in place to ensure us that road safety may be able to be effectively tackled in the near future. One of these aspects is the police patrol force that is fully operational but perhaps not yet completely efficient in controlling driver behavior. The important fact to consider is that there are enough patrol cars to ensure the monitoring of driver behavior when it becomes a priority on the political agenda.
The installation and patrol of red light cameras have begun to have an effect on driver behavior. This may not be obvious if you have just arrived to Georgia recently. But if you have been here since 2005, like I have, you will have noticed some significant changes – especially at traffic lights. Fewer drivers run red lights now than previously. It is even possible to cross the street at installed pedestrian crossing lights, which I never thought I would witness in my life time. Only very occasionally do drivers disobey the red light at pedestrian crossings and this is a big change from just three years ago when 90% of drivers would have considered a pedestrian crossing a joke.
In the past 3 years, a noticeable improvement has been observed within Tbilisi, which proves that behavior change can take place in a short amount of time if incorrect behavior is monitored and punished. The success in Tbilisi now needs to be expanded to the highways. Punishments, such as fines and possible loss of license, should be handed out to reckless drivers and minibus operators if they are performing illegal or risky maneuvers that endanger lives.
Like all monitoring and enforcing programs that are likely to have political repercussions, the government will also need to perform an extensive marketing campaign that explicitly states their actions and the reasons for it.
Considering everything stated here, the government would be wise to act swiftly on this problem and reduce the burden on the society and the economy. This will allow us to all look forward to our summer holidays and driving on safer roads within the city and on the highway. Our tourists are also likely to have more to talk about than their terrifying road trip around Georgia.
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