Road Safety with Viktor Zagreba
In Ukraine, road traffic accidents account for about 0.73% of total deaths, bringing the death rate to nearly 9 per 100,000 people, according to 2018 WHO data. It’s by no means the worst country for road deaths, but Ukraine has one of the lowest road safety levels in Europe.
“It’s very frustrating because all these deaths are preventable,” says Viktor Zagreba, road safety activist, mobility consultant, and former advisor to Ukraine’s minister of infrastructure. “This isn’t like cancer or war where people must die. In road travel and daily commutes, people don’t have to die, but they die everyday.”
One of the main problems Zagreba sees in his country is the mentality around road safety and a lack of safe driving culture. The consultant says that three quarters of Ukranian drivers don’t wear seatbelts.
“Technically, it’s quite easy to decrease the number of fatalities if you decrease risk factors like speeding, improve infrastructure, and make people wear seatbelts, but it’s not happening,” he says. “Why? Because it’s not a technical problem. It’s a social problem.”
Education is crucial in the fight against road deaths and in bridging the gap between reality and perception. Zagreba says there is a cognitive dissonance among drivers who might acknowledge the fact that road deaths exist but don’t think it will happen to them. Without comprehensive messaging and a national traffic road safety education program, countries in the developing world will struggle to achieve Vision Zero.
Governments also need to shift their mentality regarding road deaths. Zagreba says there’s a culture of victim blaming that focuses on how the guilty party violated certain traffic rules.
“This perception persists in the heads of decision makers and in society in general,” says Zagreba. It’s not productive to blame people themselves. Politically and strategically, it’s [the government’s] responsibility to reduce the number of crashes in the future by changing the streets in a way that reduces the possibility and severity of crashes.”
Educating local and national transport authorities on this cognitive bias is the first step, but they also need to be educated on what works and what doesn’t work as it relates to preventing road deaths in their specific districts. The worst fatalities are usually the result of speeding, violation of maneuvering rules, and drunk driving, and pedestrians account for the largest percentage of victims. Therefore transportation and infrastructure authorities need to come up with solutions in the form of improved infrastructure, new legislation, and stricter enforcement.
Zagreba’s consulting firm works with cities to both come up with the right options for them and point out when a city is focusing on the wrong interventions. For example, many cities have implemented speed hubs to try to curb driving over the speed limit, but the data shows this intervention simply isn’t effective.
“The best thing to encourage people is to show them an example in their own country of a city that has a good track record of doing the right things,” says Zagreba. The consultant pointed to Germany and the Netherlands as models of countries that implement effective road safety management, policies, infrastructure, enforcement, and education. But when he’s working with Eastern European countries, he likes to keep it as local as possible so people see that it’s possible in their own home, too.
For those who want to get involved in road safety initiatives in their own country, Zagreba recommends joining a NGO as a first step to immerse yourself in the topic and get to know the stakeholders so you can form your own vision and strategy.
“From the NGO sector, it’s easy to shift into local or national government, or to consulting,” he says. “In countries like Ukraine that are transitioning in the developing world, if there is not a strong NGO to join, start your own. Make it a grassroots effort.”
Listen to the whole podcast here.