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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.