The FINANCIAL — 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. The country is working on a National Road Safety Strategy and the Action Plan at the moment. However, this will not be sufficient in itself until there is a concrete key agency working on the implementation of the strategy.
The Georgian Alliance for Safe Roads and United Nations opened the 3rd UN Global Road Safety Week with the slogan Save Kids’ Lives. This year, the organizers have chosen children as their main focus because the country’s road safety education begins from an early age.
“Georgia’s road safety problem is very serious. The road death rate here is around four times that of the better performers globally and twice as high as the average EU road death rate,” said Jeanne Breen, a global expert in Road Safety Management and policy review.
Breen has been part of a process of assessing the activity in Georgia and working with Georgian colleagues to develop a long-term national road safety strategy, setting out new directions in road safety work and a 5 year national road safety action plan to launch and implement. “We are very near to finalising these and I’m optimistic that we will get some good results by what is planned,” she said.
As Breen said, the active NGOs here in Georgia will be very important in supporting the efforts of the key agencies, and for their future success. “They deserve much credit for their role in initiatives such as the campaign for compulsory front seatbelt use.”
“Road safety in Georgia is such that almost everybody has been affected by a death or injury around them. The figures are far too high in terms of casualties and injuries. It is young people primarily who are affected, it is not only a tragedy but also, from an economic point of view, a real deterrent to progress. In order to achieve sustainable human development here, in Georgia, road safety is one of the aspects we need to deal with,” Niels Scott, UNDP Resident Representative in Georgia, told The FINANCIAL.
“The remedy for unsafe roads is about imposing legislation on seatbelts and speed limits. The authorities are imposing this legislation with success. But it is not only about that. We should encourage education in the country’s schools and communities. Georgia has signed the AA with the EU. The targets and terms of European standards are going to be met. Road safety will be one of the biggest steps forward,” Scott said.
“We are proud to state that the country is currently working on a road safety strategy. However, we are still witnessing some challenges. Considering the EU experience, besides having a strategy document, it is important to have a leading agency that will be responsible for implementing and achieving it. In addition, such an agency needs to distribute the responsibilities to different bodies. The absence of such an agency is contributing to the lower results in road safety. Establishing an agency is crucial,” said Eka Laliashvili, Chair of the Georgian Alliance for Safe Roads.
As Laliashvili said, the Alliance is ready to get more deeply involved in these processes and support any initiatives in this regard.
“There is no proper approach or analysis being carried out by officials on the impact of road accidents. Road accidents have been reduced by 25% during the past years. We cannot name the concrete reasons that contributed to this reduction. One of the main issues was overseeing the usage of seatbelts and stating penalties. However, this is fragment intervention that will not give us long-term results. In the meantime though, it was a really important precedent. It has shown us that if we can adapt to seatbelts, we can adapt to other regulations as well,” said Laliashvili.
Despite the many dangerous drivers in Georgia, Priit Turk, Ambassador of Estonia to Georgia, feels safe on Georgian roads. As he said, there are some unfortunate occurrences on the roads that can be easily avoided. “If everybody behaved and drove in a responsible manner then there would be much less risk on the roads,” he added.
“There are many things which have to be implemented to achieve road safety in Georgia. Estonia has made considerable progress in terms of road safety. We are not at the top of the EU, but we have an ambitious plan. One of the key things has been acknowledging the challenge. In Georgia it is also a joint effort of different bodies that need a strategic approach. It is a long-term approach and requires lots of investments in the roads, in the infrastructure. It also needs a change in the mentality of the population. Road safety is a challenge for all countries, which is due to the increasing number of cars on the roads. However, it seems preventable to me. Within the Alliance of Road Safety we have distributed 30,000 reflectors in Georgian schools. These small tools make children more visible. It is very important to talk and explain to kids how to behave on roads. Kids are in a weaker position on the road, so much more relies on the drivers. We support young people in being more aware of the risks on the road and having proper behaviour. I think that they can only follow the rules if the other side also follows the rules,” said Turk.
In Turk’s words, in Estonia the number of cars also multiplied, especially in the early 2000s. However, the Government took a very strategic approach. “Georgia also needs to invest in awareness raising, having very strict penalties, and also infrastructure. More cars means better infrastructure. The usability of public transport is also important. If more people use public transport, less people will use private vehicles,” he advised.
During the meeting, Archil Talakvadze, the Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs of Georgia, talked about the importance of road safety and its challenges. Talakvadze underlined the areas in which the Ministry will begin and continue its active cooperation with the Alliance in the nearest future, including infrastructure improvements, new rules for driving license acquisition, speed control, seatbelts on back seats, etc.
Yield to pedestrians – this is the main message being delivered to drivers by the Georgian Alliance for Safe Roads. The Alliance is appealing to pedestrians to only use the correct crossing places when crossing a road. As for the Government, the Alliance expects that road safety will become a prioritized issue for them. “By prioritization I mean strict enforcement of legislation, safe infrastructure for pedestrians, safer vehicles and developed public transport in the country, reduction of speed limits in urban areas, raising public awareness that will help us to reduce the number of accidents from year to year,” Laliashvili told The FINANCIAL.