By Daniel Mwamba
The first automobile propelled by an internal combustion engine is generally considered to be a three-wheeled vehicle introduced in 1886 by Germany’s Karl Benz. Vehicle development thereafter proceeded rapidly in Europe and in the US. A revolutionary development occurred in 1913 near Detroit, Michigan, when Henry Ford introduced the moving assembly line to mass produce the Ford Model T. The assembly line so reduced production costs that vehicles could be offered at prices that a substantial portion of the US public could afford, leading to rapid growth in vehicle ownership. As the number of vehicles increased, so did the number of crashes and the number of fatalities.
The first known fatal road crash killed a 44-year-old female pedestrian on 17 August 1896 in London. The first fatal crash to be well documented and photographed occurred on 25 February in 1899 in Harrow, near London. A detailed account of it appears in the 4 March 1899 issue of the The Autocar, a British weekly started in 1895 and still being published.
Six men were traveling in the vehicle when the driver applied maximum braking as the vehicle gained speed on a downhill. This caused the tires to separate from the wheels, with subsequent wheel failure. The vehicle dropped to the ground, coming to an abrupt stop. In accord with well-known physical laws, all six occupants continued to move forward until stopped when their bodies struck the ground or other objects in the roadway environment.
Road crashes are now a global health and development challenge with significant human and economic costs, especially in developing countries. The leading cause of death among people aged 15-29, road crashes kill 1.25 million people every year and injure another 50 million—more deaths than from malaria or tuberculosis.
With over 2000 deaths per annum, in Zambia, road crashes have been estimated to have cost the country over K4 billion in 2015. His Excellency President Edgar Chagwa Lungu during His Inauguration speech empathized the need for reduction in the number of lives being lost on our roads.
The United Nations recognized the severity of this challenge by adopting specific road safety targets in the Sustainable Development Goals: to halve the number of global deaths and injuries from road crashes by 2020. This ambitious target can only be achieved through a concerted effort that involves all major stakeholders: national and local governments, multilateral development banks, bilateral donors, civil society, and the private sector.
The private sector, a key stakeholder in this agenda, can contribute the knowledge, resources, and innovations that are required to accelerate progress and decisively change existing trends.
The insurance industry is also a key part of this coalition. Already playing an important, if somewhat hidden, role in the road safety agenda, the industry insures almost 1 billion vehicles globally, helping to reduce the costs of road crashes to society and the economy.
Motor vehicle insurance has been described as a necessary evil – even if you pay cash for a motor vehicle and you are the most cautious of motorists, you are at great financial risk if you drive an uninsured vehicle. Having a good insurance policy puts your mind at ease as you drive and this in itself is one of the biggest vehicle insurance benefits – peace of mind that should you be involved in a road crash or have your car stolen, you are covered!
Improvements in road safety benefit the public as well as the insurance industry. Broad-based insurance coverage makes sure that health and property costs for victims of road crashes are protected, but it also benefits insurance companies by expanding their market. In the same vein, reducing the number or severity of crashes benefits all of us, while it also reduces the volume of claims to insurance firms.
In fact a huge motivator to create good road safety practices lies in the sense of personal responsibility. A driver who wants to achieve a safe record is far more likely to avoid crashes than a driver who has no care for safety. If insurance is both well designed and implemented, it can have an enormous impact for improving road safety.
Given this strong alignment, there is an opportunity for the Zambian insurance industry to take a leadership role in furthering the cause of safer roads. Specifically, there are five areas where insurance firms can make a significant contribution:
1. Embed road safety in insurance products and services, such as bonus-penalty mechanisms for insurance. Risk-based pricing is a powerful tool in the promotion of personal responsibility, as it links the causing of an accident to the economics of paying for those consequences, which in turn gradually lead to safer driving and behavior change.
2. Promote new technologies that inform road users about driving behavior, telematics through apps and other tools. Linked with insurance policies and risk-based pricing, this can be a game-changer.
3. Provide shared, data-driven knowledge and research to contribute to a better understanding of the causes of road crashes and of safe road behavior.
4. Partner with the Zambia Road Safety Trust to invest in raising public awareness of risk factors for road users (speeding, alcohol use, absence of seatbelts, seasonality), with a focus on vulnerable road users such as children, motorbikes and non-motorized vehicles.
5. Partner with the Zambia Road Safety Trust, sharing expertise and developing innovative ways to develop and finance road safety policies and programs.
Many of these suggestions are already demonstrating success in specific countries but what will it take to implement successful solutions in Zambia where the toll of road crashes is the highest?
Improving road safety is a complex process involving different elements of the economy and society. Today, we see a gap between the government, insurers and the end users. We need to come together to achieve greater synergy between the efforts of these stakeholders to reduce costly road crashes.
The Zambia Road Safety Trust can play the role of catalyst to such efforts and partnerships. Bringing stakeholders around the table, supporting the government and private enterprises to develop an encouraging environment and implement best practices, in a manner that combines safer roads with business success for the benefit of all, avoiding affected families going into poverty.
The road safety challenge needs decisive and concrete contributions of all relevant public and private stakeholders. We would like to thank some of our various partners that we have worked with us including Puma Energy Zambia, Lafarge Zambia Plc, Times of Zambia, Rural Electrification Authority, Road Transport & Safety Agency, the Ministry of Transport and Communications, the Zambia Police, World Health Organisation and many more. We look forward to adding more partners to these much needed efforts.
The author is the chairman of the Zambia Road Safety Trust.