A number of studies of road crashes worldwide (Jacobs et al, 2000) carried out by TRL in recent years have shown that the road safety situation throughout the African continent is one of the worst in the world. With approximately only 4 per cent of the world's motor vehicles, its road fatality share is 2 times greater (10%). In several African countries, a motor vehicle is over a hundred times more likely to be involved in a fatal road crash than in the UK or USA.

This is the first review of road safety in Sub Saharan Africa and the objective was to analyse existing data and information on the road safety situation in order to identify the data gaps and priority needs. Based on the poor response received from an earlier survey distributed by the United Nation Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), a shorter survey (restricted to crash data only) was sent to each of the 42 countries. Unfortunately, this too had a low response with less than 20 per cent providing the data requested. Accordingly, the analysis was based on published sources such as the IRF statistics, data identified in the literature review and project reports.

Between 68 and 82 thousand lives are estimated to be lost in road crashes in Sub Saharan Africa in 2000. This estimate has factored in the problem of under-reporting in official police statistics, the traditional source for road casualty data. While the figures are greater than those being reported by the police, they are lower than previous WHO projections.

The current situation in Sub Saharan Africa was reviewed in terms of fatality rate (fatalities per 10,000 motor vehicles) and fatality risk (fatalities per 100,000 population) as well as motorisation level (number of motor vehicles per 1,000 population). With the highest regional motorisation levels, Southern Africa also reported the highest fatality risk. Fatality rates varied significantly within regions with nine countries reporting in excess of 100 fatalities per 10,000 motor vehicles. The East Africa region (Tanzania, Ethiopia, Uganda, Malawi) reported extremely high fatality rates.

Apart from the two largest countries, South Africa and Nigeria, Sub Saharan Africa reported a 42 per cent increase in road fatalities over the past decade. This is less than in previous decades but still cause for concern, especially as the loss appears to be that of working-age men, who are most likely heads of households and responsible for several family members. As could be expected with the low motorisation level, many of the road fatalities were pedestrians or cyclists. Pedestrians accounted for 86% of the fatalities in Addis Ababa and five countries reported over half of all road fatalities to be vulnerable road users (pedestrians or two-wheeled vehicle riders).

Despite Africa's serious road safety record, the region has other more important causes of premature mortality. Road safety is unlikely to become a top medical or political priority in Africa and limited resources can be expected to be available for road safety improvements. Maximum use should be made of the limited resources and lessons should be shared. The recommendations produced relate to the perceived priority areas where needs are greatest and opportunities are being missed. In short, this includes the following: a sectoral needs assessment conducted in-country by local counterparts and priority given to facilitating the use of crash data and accurate location details. Partnerships need to be built between the public and private sectors and civil society and community partnership encouraged. Links need to be strengthened between sectors, especially with the health sector in order to obtain more accurate estimates of the road casualty burden.

Road safety issues need to be integrated into the Road Maintenance Initiative with greater priority given to road safety engineering, especially the use of road safety audits. Increased reliance on user charges to finance safety measures should also be promoted as it will be the road users who benefit and they should share the costs. A central road safety reference system is also needed to allow future work to build on the existing base of knowledge and minimise duplication.

Many of the problems identified were not new, i.e. pedestrian safety, professional drivers and commercial vehicles, but they still remain priorities. The lessons learned in motorised countries, i.e. the neglect of pedestrian safety and need for community participation, should be shared with Africa in the hope that some of the costs of motorisation and development can be avoided.