How the car accident death rate in Belarus have reduced to the level of Belgium

Now the car accident death rate in Belarus is lower than the average in the EU countries: in 2017, 586 people died on the roads, and this figure decreases every year. This was not always the case: in 2005, 1,400 people died. In 10 years the death rate decreased threefold.

This was was possible thanks to the program Vision Zero (“Zero Deaths”), which Belarusians adopted in the early 2000s, following the example of Sweden. At that time activists of the Belarusian Association of Experts and Transport Surveyors (BNPP) organized an interdepartmental conference in Minsk, where experts from the Swedish Vision Zero program and representatives of 16 other countries gathered.

“We had a growth in motorization at a time when others were already learning to protect road users. Why reinvent the wheel? It was a risky but successful endeavour, “- explained the chairman of the BNPP Yuri Vazhnik.

According to the Belarusian activist, they were very lucky with this conference: its guests could infect local officials with the idea of zero mortality in road accidents. Vazhnik remembers that the head of the traffic police then did not quite understand why the Swedes set the task of “Zero deaths”, it seemed to the policeman impossible. He was told: “We want to “go to zero”, and we do everything for this.”

– Well, our officials then got wound up: There will be a “Minus 100″ every year in Belarus!” – Vazhnik retells the results of the conference.

The project began to be implemented immediately. “We started with universal instruments: speed bumps, speed control, improved surveillance,” – explains Vazhnik.

And it turned out: we needed not a complicated law with plentiful points, but just a contagious idea. The slogan “Minus 100” was understandable for people, forced to act.

– I remember going to Sweden to study the topic of speed bumps, they were not used in Belarus then. When I returned, I saw the work already in process, speed bumps were appearing everywhere! I was said then: “Do not bother us, we are working already!”

The death rates have decreased. But later on, some new, less obvious measures were needed. We settled on the analysis of accidents and the study of statistics, which was approved by the traffic police.

– We take raw materials from them, analyze, process and sell a ready-made information system with a good visualization, from which it becomes clear what to do. For example, these are accident factors and the degree of importance. As a result of the analysis, it turns out that the main problem has been that of drunk drivers, and they now commit only 2 percent of the total number of accidents. Therefore, the focus needs to be switched to other aspects.

For example, it can be seen from the last graphs that drunk drivers in Minsk are rare, the residents of the capital observe the speed limits, and frontal collisions are not frequent. While the priority factors are the lack of protection of pedestrians and accidents in the dark. Here are the data: in 2017, 23 accident victims out of 41 were pedestrians (Minsk). Most often, fatal accidents occur from midnight to 3 AM  and from 6 to 9 AM.

Dmitry Navoi, the representative of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Belarus, says that they thoroughly analyze each of the serious accidents in order to identify all the causes. Here is an example: the driver in a fatal night accident was going to a night pharmacy, so he could not refuse to drive. This means that socially important institutions should be available in each area even at night so that people do not drive at a dangerous time of day.

According to Vazhnik, Minsk is not going to save on street lighting, as it only accounts for three percent of the total energy consumption. Since the roads are empty at night, people usually drive at a high speed.

-But there are unobvious and paradoxical reasons. Returning to the case with drunk drivers: we have been “fighting” with them, while they were no longer involved much, the road accidents death rate almost does not depend on them…”

Good Road

After the Minus One program, Minsk moved on developing a conceptual campaign called “Good Road”. “Добрая” in Belarusian also means “hospitable, safe” explains Vazhnik.

This program is approved at the level of all responsible departments, it is the main driving document, which defines the annual goals and tactical tasks. If the first “Good Road” aimed to reduce the number of people killed in an accident to 50 people (the plan was overfulfilled, in 2015, 41 people died in life accidents), then the next campaign (2016-2020), the public and authorities intend to reduce the death rate in the capital to 25 people .

Another measure is to change the design of four-lane roads. Drivers tend to park on the left and on the right on such roads, thereby leaving just 2 lanes for movement. So pedestrians often become victims of road accidents, including children, who can not be seen because of the obstacles, which are cars. Furthermore, “central islands” need to be built o busy roads…

According to Vazhnik, they adopt the Swedish approach, adapting it to the peculiarities of Belarus. For example, in Sweden, the originators of the Vision Zero project were the interested architects and designers, but they are still not so much interested in Belarus.

“We are not very interested in the fact that the designer just projects a new road in compliance with standards, as it does not provide security, – explains the lieutenant-colonel Navoi. – Therefore, we write to the designer: there should be no more than such an amount of accidents and injuries per year on that street, these are our requirements. And the designer must adapt to them, he signs a document, which, roughly speaking, ensures that no more than two people per year die on this street…”

If the accident and injuries are greater than projected, sanctions will be applied to the designers. Dmitry Navoi gives an example of a classic case in the yard, when children get under the wheels of the car: the car starts and there is no danger in the area of visibility, but a child runs out from around the corner, which the driver could not notice in time.

– The easiest way is to call just the driver guilty. It’s not the person who is to blame but the circumstances. But in fact, the question “Who is to blame” is not relevant when it comes to road safety, as we need the question “What to do,” Vazhnik adds.

Today, the streets design is among the three most important factors affecting the road safety. Director of the company “ETS-Consult”, dealing with the problems of road safety, Pavel Astapenya cites pavements and “zebras” as an example. For a safe transition, they must be built on the same level and made with the same coverage, and pedestrians on the roads should be visibly marked by colour and other signals. However, according to him, such an approach is becoming outdated.

“The fatalities in the accidents have already been “fought”. What is the problem of Minsk now? People continue to die, less of them, of course, but it does happen. And nothing can be done about that unless system measures are applied. Now it is necessary to attract people to use public and alternative transport instead of cars, and also to reduce speed altogether.

Yuri Vazhnik points out that there is no sufficient data for a quality analysis. During the last two years, there were about 40 fatal accidents in Minsk, all in different places. “And we do not yet know what to do about it, there are no strategies.”

Nevertheless, the campaign “Good Road” has already started to reduce the traffic in the city. The first serious measure is a system of paid parking in the centre of Minsk. It’s not quite usual there: violators, as a rule, do not even get fined, but people pay regularly, and they gradually stop using personal cars in the centre. All because of the innovative approach of activists: they came up with an unusual system of cards.

– Over the past year, only 5 or 6 people were fined, – says Vazhnik. – But we came up with a system of cards, almost like in football: green, yellow, red. Russian “Стопхам” (“Stop the cad”) is a ridiculous movement, it aggravates conflicts. And we first said that there will be paid parking, distributing green cards among drivers. It is amazing that people began asking: “Yes, when will you finally make that?”. Later on, those drivers who did not pay began to receive yellow cards. Who did not understand and continued not to pay – got red cards. And we, in turn, did not advertise what would happen if one does not pay and get a card. And the drivers began to fear the unknown and began to pay. This affects the behaviour of drivers more steadily than anything else.

Persuading people to use public transport in Minsk is not difficult, for it is quite developed in the capital. There is a tram, electric buses have appeared, since the Soviet times the metro has remained, trolleybuses and buses run around the city, convenient transport maps have been made for passengers.

But what concerns the alternative transport, there are difficulties: in Minsk, there is still no real bicycle infrastructure and a system of bicycle paths. Cyclists are moving either along with cars or on sidewalks, which are very wide in Minsk. Meanwhile, the traffic police lobby the appearance of bike paths.

Both Vazhnik and Navoi have repeatedly mentioned non-standard and innovative solutions, which, obviously, are not prescribed in the road rules or elsewhere. In Russia, this is often a problem, since neither the customer nor the performer wants to leave the standards just on paper. However, Belarus came up with a solution.

“If something is not yet in the law, then special technical conditions are given for this,” says Navoi. – And if something is not in the rules of the road, the traffic police can experiment at its discretion. Thus, we try something, analyze it and, if necessary, already introduce it into the official documents.

Despite the amount of work done, many useful reforms still cannot be implemented. For example, the authorities have lowered the maximum permissible speed to 50 kilometres per hour in residential areas and the city centre (except for zones where there are special signs and highways where you can drive faster), but the traffic rules allow you to exceed the speed without penalty by another 19 kilometres per hour. The traffic police intend to ban this, but can not.

– Automobile minority is too active, and it is difficult to resist it. Try to “transfer” all the officials to buses, will it work? – says Navoi about similar to Russian problems.

The Russian analogue

In early 2018, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev signed a plan to reduce the death rate, which is called “Zero Deaths”, butit has nothing in common with the Swedish Vision Zero except the name. The main difference is in approaches. The Swedish, like Belarusians, abandoned the model in which the driver or pedestrian is considered to be the culprit of an accident. They believe that people tend to make mistakes, which means that it is vital to exclude the consequences of possible mistakes – to make the environment so safe that even breaking the rules will not affect the life and health of the road users.

“In order to achieve the declared rates of mortality reduction, it is necessary to change the behaviour of road users, developing their unconditional compliance with traffic rules and regulations,” – the authorities on a Russian TV channel say.

Literally, this means that emphasis will be placed on educational goals, and violators will not be tolerated, which contradicts the idea of Vision Zero. And as the study “Deprivation and safety on the roads”, conducted at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, propaganda for the correct behavior on the roads is ineffective and works only together with more radical reforms.

The Russian program also focuses on the reduction of street transitions in favor of extracurricular ones, which also only increases the likelihood of fatal crashes.

In general, this is not the first attempt made by Russian officials to seriously tackle the high car accidents mortality rate. Navoi says that some heads of regional traffic police from Russia, as well as the now dismissed head of the main department, Viktor Nilov, came to Minsk to study the example, but they have never followed it.

According to Navoi, he himself conducted a tour of the city for Nilov, showed all the innovations, but the guest was not very impressed. The following day Navoi made a presentation with statistics of fatal crashes, which included both Belarus and Russia, as well as other CIS countries.

– How?! How did you do it? – was the reaction of Nilov.

– So I told you yesterday, – the Belarusian joked in response.

– Is it really that simple?

Navoi confirms that the reforms are really not as complex as they may seem, but paying attention to details for many years in a row is needed to achieve such low rates. However, Navoi and Vazhnik do not consider them low: their goal is zero deaths on the roads of Belarus.

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