Chapter 5 - Crash Characteristics

Chapter 5 - Crash Characteristics

This section offers a summary of some basic characteristics of the reported road crash and casualty situation in Africa. The analysis was conducted on the data collected, which was from a limited number of countries and based on police statistics. The main data source were the completed questionnaires, project reports, annual road crash reports (Ethiopia and Botswana) and MAAP (micro computer accident analysis package) country databases (Botswana and Zimbabwe).

5.1 Urban crashes

As road crashes are limited to those areas with roads and vehicles, road safety is unlikely to be a priority in rural areas and is more likely to be an urban or a highway corridor problem. The limited data available (See Table 5.1) found no simple correlation between urbanisation and the share of urban road crashes. Urban areas are assumed to have better reporting procedures and this is believed to explain the large share of urban casualty crashes reported in South Africa and Zimbabwe.

Urban areas, with their lower operating speeds, will account for a larger share of urban casualty crashes than fatality crashes. Damage only crashes appear to be concentrated in urban areas with relatively few being reported outside urban areas in Ethiopia, South Africa or Zimbabwe.

5.2 Road casualties

Pedestrians account for the largest fatality class in six of the eight countries shown in Table 5.2, only Botswana and Zimbabwe report more passenger fatalities than pedestrian fatalities. In over half the countries shown, drivers account for a small share of fatalities, less than 10 per cent. South Africa reported the largest share of driver fatalities but it was still less than one of every three fatalities.

As shown in Figure 5.1, vulnerable road users, i.e. pedestrians and two-wheel vehicle riders (both bicycles and motorcycles) constitute over half of all road fatalities in five of the eight African countries shown. While motorcyclists accounted for very few road fatalities, cyclist fatalities were significant in Uganda (almost one of every five fatalities), Tanzania and Kenya.(In the USA, France and Germany for example, vulnerable road users constitute about 13 per cent of all casualties).

Table 5.3 below shows the pedestrian casualty involvement to be even higher in urban areas, as could be expected. Only in Botswana were pedestrians a minority of road casualties. Table 5.3 also shows a relatively high casualty rate for urban crashes and the difference in the number of road being reported in African countries. Zimbabwe, where police reporting is believed to be given much priority and where ambulances are coordinated through the police, reported both the lowest casualty rate and the highest injury:fatality ratio, thus suggesting greater priority was being given to slight injury crashes where only one person was injured.

5.2.1 Socio-economic characteristics of road casualties

Road crashes tend to strike males in the prime of life, when they are likely to be at the peak of economic and social importance as head of a household. Over 75 per cent of casualties for the three countries shown in Table 5.4 were of working age, i.e. between 16 and 65 years. Those aged over 65 accounted for a small share of road casualties while children tended to be injured as pedestrians, as many as 30 per cent of Botswana's pedestrian casualties were under age 16.

Gender distribution
The recent TRL global fatality study found females to rarely account for more than 25-30 per cent of road casualties in developing countries. Ethiopia reported a relatively high female casualty involvement rate (34%) wheras in Zimbabwe, females represented 14 per cent of road fatalities (1998) and this rate was confirmed by hospital studies (Aeron-Thomas, 2000). Females tend to have a higher pedestrian involvement rate; Botswana recently reported females accounting for as high as one-third of all pedestrian fatalities and 43 per cent of all pedestrian casualties. Only 6 per cent of driver casualties were females in Ethiopia (TRL, 2000).

While women may account for relatively few casualties, they suffer as secondary victims with the loss of husbands or fathers as they will be left in much more precarious position in terms of society and financial security. Likewise, children suffer not only when they are injured or killed in road crashes, but also are impacted by the social and economic loss of a parent.

Road crashes and the poor
Very few countries monitor the income level or occupation status of their road casualties. Studies in the UK have shown children of lower income families to be several times more likely to be injured in a road RTC. Increased exposure contributes to this problem with poor families unable to afford to live away from busy roads.

A practical assumption is that whilst not all pedestrians are poor, the poor will be pedestrians. The DFID funded Pedestrian Vulnerability/Accidents Study surveyed both pedestrian victims and pedestrians (as a control group) to ascertain the associated socio-economic characteristics.

The share of the lowest income group, both personal and household, from four cities in LICs shown in Table 5.5. Pedestrian victims were reported to be much poorer than the control sample in Colombo, Accra and Bangalore and slightly poorer in Harare.

As with females and children, the impact on the poor should not be measured by the casualty rate alone. The poor will be less likely to accommodate the impact of a road death or serious injury as there will be little savings available and repercussions on other family members can be expected, particularly with women bearing the burden of care.

5.3 Crash characteristics

5.3.1 Vehicle type involvement

As shown in Table 5.6, apart from low motorcycle involvement, there appears to be little consistency between the vehicles involved in casualty crashes for the 7 countries shown below. Lorries and vans are heavily involved in casualty crashes in Kenya and Botswana (pick-ups included with lorries), whereas Tanzania has higher involvement from cars and buses. Ongoing public transport safety research in Tanzania has highlighted the high involvement rate of private buses in urban areas (98% of all public transport vehicles involved in crashes) (Rwebangira et al, 1999).

A vehicle type's crash involvement rate may be explained in part by its share of the motor vehicle fleet. Table 5.7 compares the crash involvement rate of commercial vehicles with that of their vehicle fleet share in three African countries. Cars did not have a consistent pattern while lorries had a lower crash rate in two countries. The key finding was the high crash involvement of buses. In South Africa, their crash involvement rate was over twice that of their fleet share, in Botswana it was 3 times and in Kenya, buses were 3 times more likely to be involved in a crash than their fleet share.

5.4 Contributory factors

Many crash reporting systems in Africa do include contributory factors, and the results from three countries are shown in Table 5.8.

Table 5.8 refers to all road crashes, i.e. damage only included, although Zimbabwe reported higher involvement with speed and pedestrian error in injury crashes with almost one of every four injury crashes being caused by pedestrians.

However, these findings need to be put into context as:

  • This information will be recorded at the initial, pre-investigation stage by police officers with little crash investigation training.
  • Single causes are usually listed and this oversimplifies the reality of most crashes.
  • Without adequate location data, the role of the road environment will be underestimated.
  • Traffic police are often inclined to cite the motorised road user as being at fault as he will most likely be in a better position to pay compensation than would a pedestrian or cyclist.

A different approach was recently undertaken in South Africa where the Portfolio Committee on Transport in South Africa conducted provincial tours where public hearings and meetings were organised with provincial officials to discuss the causes of road crashes. Some 12 main causes were highlighted but these appeared to be subjective, i.e. cell phones, involvement of the police in the taxi industry, tyre blowouts as well as irresponsible and reckless driving, high speed, etc.