Several organizations, including the United Nations, have identified human error and bad driving habits as the number one cause of all road and traffic accidents. It has become so prevalent that the United Nations designated 2011 to 2020 as the Decade of Road Safety. According to Bob Joop Goos, Chairman of the International Organization for Road Accident Prevention, human error is responsible for over 90 percent of traffic and road accidents.

By the numbers

There are an estimated 1.3 million deaths and 50 million serious injuries due to traffic accidents every year. In low and middle income countries these numbers are estimated to rise anywhere between 68 and 144 percent over the next decade. Conversely, it is expected that traffic accidents will decline by 27 percent in Europe, Canada, the United States and other high-income countries. This illustrates the stark contrast between road safety in developing and developed countries.

Bad driving habits

According to Jose Miguel, Chairman of the Portuguese Society for Road Accidents Prevention, accidents result when the driver’s abilities do not match the demands of the driving environment. A driving environment is whatever the driver experiences: rain, fog, snow, potholes, etc. It is argued that the cheapest and most effective way to reduce accidents is through raising the ability of drivers to adapt to a given environment. As drivers’ skills are raised their bad habits will decrease.

In Dubai, 90 percent of all road accidents are related to bad driving. For example: treating red lights like stop signs, drinking and driving, failing to signal, driving on the shoulder and on sidewalks. These problems are mirrored across countless developing countries. Some of these issues, like failing to signal or drunk driving, remain serious problems in high-income countries. However most drivers in those countries trust that the other drivers won’t drive on the shoulder and won’t drive through a red light. That road culture is what the U.N. hopes to disseminate.

The strategy

The goal of this initiative is to raise the profile of road accidents. To convince governments and people that traffic accidents are a man-made disaster which can be resolved economically through better driving habits. The hope is that safe driving habits will become the norm.

The rise in automobile ownership across the world has corresponded with a rapid increase in traffic fatalities. These numbers demonstrate that every positive development comes with corresponding new problems.