Monday, August 19, 2013

Facing Traffic Mortality in Emerging Markets, Head On

This week, Vital Wave's CEO was in a head-on car collision with a Ugandan boda boda (or scooter). Amazingly, everyone involved walked away unscathed, narrowly avoiding joining the 50 million people worldwide who are injured or killed in car accidents each year. This incident also underscored an issue that is highly relevant to the continued growth of emerging markets. The World Health Organization (WHO) has labeled traffic fatalities a serious but neglected public health issue that disproportionately affects developing countries. A full 90% of the 1.3 million people killed each year in road traffic injuries are in low- and middle-income countries. Low-income rural countries have a per capita traffic death rate more than twice that of high-income countries, despite owning only 1% of registered vehicles. This discrepancy appears to be widening, and current trends suggest that road traffic injuries will be the third leading cause of death and disability worldwide by the year 2020.

"The use of smart phones to reinforce safety habits will be much more affordable in developing countries than integrated, in-vehicle systems such as collision avoidance systems. The technology and some applications already exist to connect vehicles with smart phones for supporting safe behaviors such as speed limit and seat belt compliance."
- Nicholas Ward, Professor of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, Montana State University
The impact of traffic injuries is felt across all sectors of emerging markets. Economically, road crashes cost developing economies the equivalent of 1-3 percent of GNP each year. These costs will only go up as car ownership and traffic levels balloon faster than the surrounding road infrastructure and traffic safety culture can support. In addition to the direct costs of automotive crashes, the healthcare resources required to treat these injuries also take away from efforts across the developing world to address high rates of infectious disease and the increasing burden of chronic disease.

Cross-sector efforts present opportunities to address this growing but neglected health and economic problem in emerging markets. The WHO points out that "reducing the risk in the world's road traffic systems requires commitment and informed decision-making by government, industry, non-governmental organizations and international agencies, and participation by people from many different disciplines, such as road engineers, motor vehicle designers, law enforcement officers and health professionals and community groups." Such coordinated efforts – through public-private partnership, strategic investments, and rigorous evaluation of needs and interventions – stand to have direct, positive impact on social and economic goals as well as business growth in industries as diverse as high-tech, healthcare, and automotive.

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