The FINANCIAL -- It took George 15, about two years to rebuild his life because of being hit by a car, on his way to school. He is lucky to still be alive; other people are not so lucky. In George's words, drivers can make a big difference in helping to prevent injuries, deaths and suffering by being more aware about the harm they can cause, and taking responsibility for the speed of their vehicles.
“Drivers should slow right down on shopping streets, in residential neighbourhoods and around schools. Vehicles have the right to be on roads, but so do pedestrians and other non-vehicle road users. If you are behind the wheel of a vehicle, you also have the responsibility to drive with lives outside your vehicle in mind. In this regard I see a huge importance of various activities that aims at teaching the youngsters to observe traffic rules from as early age as possible, so that the traffic threats are prevented and the children are familiar with necessary rules and road safety from the early age. At the same time, I see importance of explaining to drivers not to drive drunk. We might not see dramatic reduction of road accidents since the very first activities of various societies, however it changes the attitude of children and car holders after the very first lecture. So, I think that in case of continuing this way, the whole situation in the country will be changed in the better way,” said George.
The road death rate in Georgia is around four times that of the better performers globally and twice as high as the average EU road death rate. Civil society has been an only force pushing this initiative. They continue working on both sides – providing evidence-based knowledge for government that leads to smarter policies in preventing injuries and loss of life on roads and highways and helping population be aware of what they need to do to have peace of mind on the road.
Georgian Alliance for Safe Roads is the leading NGO in Georgia in this field – in road safety, vigorously involved in road safety activities and committed to improve road safety situation in Georgia through public education campaigns, road safety research, interesting PSAs and engaging road safety events. The Alliance recognizes that it is essential to have an intimate understanding of cultural and legal factors that shape decision-making and strategies to reduce road crashes.
Challenge of Road Safety in Georgia
Statistically the biggest problem in Georgia is speeding, followed by drink driving and cases in which pedestrians cross the roads where crossing is prohibited. Approximately 94% of accidents in the world, including in Georgia, are caused by human factors like speeding or drink driving and is preventable.
The number of road traffic accidents has risen by 30% during the last 2 years; the number of motor vehicle crash deaths has risen as well. In summer road traffic becomes more intense which increases the likelihood of car crashes in the regions of Georgia. Lately most of such accidents had fatal results. The number of injuries and fatalities is significantly high in youth and among kids, which becomes the reason of tragedies for many Georgian families.
“95 percent of traffic accidents happen because of people’s actions, due to human error,” said Eka Laliashvili, Chairman of the Board of the Alliance for Safe Roads. “Without a strategic approach and fundamental efforts all the actions so far have been without tangible results. There are 8,000 people injured and 550 people killed only last year because of traffic accidents in Georgia. This is a 2.5 times higher indicator than European countries have. We call on the Georgian authorities to join us and work on a strategy. Creating an adequate environment and infrastructure for pedestrians is of uttermost importance. I am happy that our foreign colleagues have come to Georgia several times to share their successful stories and now with the generous help of the EU Civil Society. Dialogue for Progress, we’ll concentrate more on pedestrians, who are the most unprotected users of the road” she added.
Institutional Responsibility of Road Safety
Improving road safety requires the participation of many different organisations and sectors. No one sector working alone can effectively reduce the number of road casualties.
This has been proved by the recent changes in Georgian road safety behaviour. During several years non-governmental sector together with the local authorities and the Media had been very intensively working on the issue of seat-belts and drunk driving - as a result since 2010 95% of all passengers and drivers in the front seat are now using the seat-belts. The same successful example is the new drunk driving law (since January, 2014) according to which the driver is immediately suspended the driving license for 6 months after the first offend of drunk driving.
Obliging wearing seat belts in front and increasing the fines on drunk driving (according to new regulations) have been the main positive step accepted by Georgian officials recently. Seat belts reduce serious crash-related injuries and deaths by about half. Air bags provide added protection but are not a substitute for seat belts. Air bags plus seat belts provide the greatest protection for adults. Meanwhile there is no obligation of wearing seatbelts on back seats in Georgia. You can frequently find infants sitting on front seat.
Recently the Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs of Georgia, expressed his eagerness to strict road safety regulations with various law. He underlined the areas in which the Ministry will begin and continue its active cooperation with the Alliance in the nearest future, including pedestrian safety, hamlet use and seatbelts on back seats.
The Role of Traffic Education and Multi-stakeholder Cooperation
The Georgia Alliance for Safe Roads has held different activities to raise awareness of road safety in Georgian society since 2010. The Alliance has implemented the public-education project, with the participation of Estonian non-governmental partner organisations and Tartu Patrol Police. The project aimed to meet with youth and explain to them the dangers of not obeying road rules. Besides, a very effective campaign - ,,Don’t Drink and Drive!’’ Project, which was successfully implemented in 2011, served t raise awareness of the publicity on drunk driving issues.
Now, in the framework of the EU-funded project ,,Advocating for Pedestrian Safety through Multi-stakeholder Dialogue and Road Safety Research’’ the Alliance is working on pedestrian safety project involving all different sectors and at the same time conducting research on pedestrian and rivers’ behaviour.
Apart from the road safety research and road safety global event celebrations, such was the UN Road Safety Week, celebrated in May in Tbilisi (by the Alliance) as well as in more than 70 countries around the world, another component of the pedestrian safety project is advocacy and traffic education.
,,Teaching safety skills to children and to the general publicity can provide lifelong benefits to society, but should be seen as a long term intervention strategy. Experience in many countries has shown that children may remember the messages in the short term, but effective and sustainable development of positive attitudes towards road safety are best achieved by inclusion in the core curriculum, either as a compulsory subject in its own right or as a cross-curricular theme.
It is also essential that education inputs are incremental (building on previous skills) and linked to the safe infrastructure and effective traffic law enforcement. This is the only proven way – multi-stakeholder dialogue and effective cooperating with different sectors – to improve road safety situation, peoples’ attitude and road safety behaviour in Georgia’’ – said Maya Kobalia, Executive Director of the Georgia Alliance for Safe Roads.
‘’Road safety is a culture. Therefore it should be taught by the school like other habits and customs. Road safety is more than learning some things when you pass the driving test. It is really a culture which dictates how to respect each other. It is a challenge in Georgia as you have many cars and road security should be obeyed more. If children start their education with activities and educational games regarding road safety it will become easier for them to obey the rules when they start driving, as the lack of awareness is cited as a major problem causing so many car accidents in the country and the trend can only be reversed through the joint and deliberate efforts of the government, civil society and the private sector’’ – she added.
Road Safety cannot be the responsibility of one sector alone. The commercial sector, service organisations and non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) play an important role in increasing road safety awareness. Together with the valuable job that the Georgia Alliance for Safe Roads is doing in improving road safety situation in Georgia (with its numerous road safety projects, PSAs, road safety global events and road safety advocacy programs), if there will be good traffic law enforcement and effective vehicle standards monitoring process from the government side as well, the road safety problem generally and more specifically, pedestrians’ safety situation in Georgia, will be improved more efficiently.