Bus-Riders of the World Unite!

Remarkable facts from a new paper by James Habyarimana and William Jack of the Center for Global Development:

The World Health Organization (2004) reported that 1.2 million people died from road traffic injuries in 2002, 90 percent in low- and middle-income countries, about the same number as die of malaria. In addition, between 20 and 50 million people are estimated to be injured or disabled each year.

Road traffic accidents constitute the largest share, 23 percent, of deaths due to injury, nearly twice as many as the 14 percent due to war and violence combined. Traffic accidents were ranked as the 10th leading cause of death in 2001, and are projected to be the third or fourth most important contributor to the global disease burden in 2030 (Lopez et. al., 2006). By that date, road accidents are projected to account for 3.7 percent of deaths worldwide — twice the projected share due to malaria (Mathers and Loncar, 2006).

It’s interesting how we hear all the time about malaria and mosquito nets (it was even World Malaria Day last week), but we never hear about third-world traffic accidents.

Habyarimana and Jack report the results of a fascinating field experiment they carried out, putting posters in over 1,000 randomly chosen Kenyan mini-buses. The posters told passengers to speak up if the driver drove dangerously.


And it really seems to have worked. Using data on insurance claims, the authors find that the buses that got these posters saw large declines in crashes relative to the control group, and the accident reduction appears to persist, as long as the signs remain posted.

I love it when I stumble onto a paper that A) teaches me some important facts, B) has a clever idea, C) is believable, and D) makes the world a better place.

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  1. Doug B says:

    I wonder if trucking companies in the US have seen a similar effect from the ubiquitous “How’s My Driving?” signs on the backs of trailers?

    I also what would happen if we had road signs that encouraged drivers to report other bad / illegal drivers. Would we have enough law enforcement to respond to all of the complaints?

    Maybe require bumper stickers (“How’s my driving? If I am driving recklessly, call 911!”) for minors and convicted DUI offenders?

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  2. Eric M. Jones says:

    Most amazing public safety sign ever posted on a bus:

    My wife and I took a bus to the beach on Guadeloupe (Fr.). Prominently displayed in tthe front was a sign that said in French, “Women Must Wear Tops”.

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  3. Brian says:

    Doug B: look up “How’s my driving? for everyone”. I think it’s been referenced on this blog.

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  4. frankenduf says:

    what’s the incidence of seatbelt use in the third world?

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  5. iratecat says:

    #4: Buses don’t have seatbelts in the first world, so probably not that high.

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  6. Utku Suleymanoglu says:

    It might also be interesting to see how the stickers affect the number of fights started in the minibuses. In my country (more developed than Kenya), bus or minibus drivers usually don’t take it kindly if some passenger interferes with their driving habits.

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  7. Brian says:

    1.2 million people died from road traffic injuries in 2002 and about the same number die of malaria and about 1 million abortions (killed babies) in the USA each year.

    What an opportunity we have to make a difference! Now, if only we can get someone to pay attention…

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  8. irshah says:

    good point #5, should also be noted that in the US many people stand on buses, so even if there were seat belts on buses, at best half of a full bus’s passengers would be wearing them.. Being from a developing country, I can confidently say there are more people standing on buses than sitting and I agree with #6, even here in the US (at least in Chicago), drivers don’t react well to being criticized, so increase in bus fights would be an interesting statistic to have.

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