A Safe Systems Approach to Vulnerable Road User Safety Issues in Ghana
Approximately, 90% of global road traffic deaths occur in low-and middle-income countries (LMICs), and vulnerable road users (VRUs) constitute 54%, even though these countries have about 60% of the world’s vehicle population. VRUs are particularly prone to injuries and fatalities because they are not protected by any external vehicular body and their vulnerability is higher in mixed traffic conditions. There have been efforts by many countries across the globe to reduce road traffic deaths and injuries, but progress varies significantly between different regions and countries. In Ghana, VRUs account for a high proportion of crashes, with pedestrians and motorcyclists making up about 60% of total crashes every year. Motorcycle-related road safety has become topical due to the recent rapid rise in commercial motorcycle activities attributed to the problem of urban traffic congestion and the general lack of reliable and affordable public transport in rural areas. Additionally, uncontrolled interaction between human and high-speed vehicular activities in and around settlement areas throughout Ghana has resulted in numerous pedestrian deaths and injuries. The phenomenon has been attributed to the land-use and right-of-way planning practices as well as lack of safe crossing facilities for VRUs, comprising pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists (both two- and three-wheelers). This dissertation is the result of three distinct, but interrelated research efforts addressing VRU safety issues in Ghana. Ghana, like many other countries in sub-Sahara Africa (SSA), is a rapidly developing nation with a rising middle-income population that is driving the urbanization and motorization processes. Nonetheless, a vast majority of the population rely on walking and motorcycles for their daily travel needs. Pedestrians and motorcyclists, both drivers and pillions, make up a significant proportion of VRU fatalities in the country. This dissertation seeks to throw more light on the VRU safety concerns in the country by a) understanding how local transport professionals perceive pedestrian and motorcycle safety issues and the adoption of the Safe Systems approach as a countermeasure tool to address them, and b) conducting data-driven analyses to identify factors contributing to these crashes so that potential countermeasures can be developed based on local conditions and input from local road safety professionals. The dissertation consists of three major areas related to VRU safety in the country. The first part of the study assessed opinions of local transport professionals on the complex safety issues relating to VRUs using the Safe Systems approach to explore how local context could guide the implementation of countermeasures. The Safe Systems approach takes a holistic view of road safety, and this framework is based on the basic premise that humans are prone to errors, mistakes, and mishaps and that as a result are vulnerable to crashes and must therefore be protected systemically. The Safe Systems approach addresses: behavioral issues that may result in crashes (speeding, driving under the influence, aggressive or distracted driving, etc.) under its safer people pillar; issues related to vehicle design and condition under safer vehicles; emphasis on infrastructure designed and constructed to prevent or reduce the severity of crashes through the safer roads pillar; and finally the promulgation of policies that promote safer speeds, especially where vehicular traffic is mixed with VRUs. The study used a Multi-Criteria Decision-Making tool, the Analytic Hierarchy Process (AHP), to develop a framework based on knowledge and opinions gleaned from a survey of local road safety professionals to prioritize countermeasures for VRUs (i.e., pedestrians and motorcyclists) using a Safe Systems approach. This initial work provided a reference frame for two subsequent data-driven analyses of motorcycle and pedestrian crashes throughout the country. The motorcycle crash study emphasized the differences among crashes that occur in rural versus urban areas. The pedestrian study focused explicitly on crashes that occurred on inter-urban highways in Ghana. It is anticipated that the findings of the dissertation research will provide a basis for the development of targeted and appropriate countermeasures to reduce the number of VRU deaths and injuries in Ghana. The recommendation for a localized Safe Systems approach and a data-driven strategy to address VRU safety issues is expected to result in improved overall road safety in the country, and other countries with similar characteristics in the region. The proposed Safe Systems framework developed, and its results can be used by transport professionals to prioritize localized efforts to improve the safety of VRUs.