Cities and Urbanization

3 ways to tackle road safety in the Global South

Participants in the Global Alliance of Cities for Road Safety (ACRoS) city-to-city exchange on road safety in Cape Town shared experiences by walking the city.

Members of the Global Alliance for Cities on Road Safety (ACRoS) discussed three ideas to improve road safety. Image: Ashraf Hendricks

Marcela Guerrero Casas
Co-Founder, Local South
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Cities and Urbanization

  • According to the WHO, approximately 1.19 million people die each year due to road traffic crashes.
  • A recent road safety event in Cape Town highlighted that Africa has the highest number per capita of road fatalities.
  • Members of the Global Alliance for Cities on Road Safety (ACRoS) discussed three ideas to improve road safety.

“The unsurmountable pain, suffering and heartache” is what keeps Cape Town’s Head of Road Safety up at night. Those were the words of Solomzi Mdlangaso at the recent Global Alliance of Cities for Road Safety (ACRoS) city-to-city exchange on road safety in Cape Town convened by UN-Habitat.

From rapid urbanisation to inadequate infrastructure and limited sensitisation, the challenges of road safety are multifaceted. The root causes may be complex, but road safety is also simply about human life and loss.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), road traffic injuries remain the leading cause of death amongst young adults aged between five and 29, with Africa having “the world’s highest per capita rate of road fatalities and the highest proportion of pedestrian and cyclist deaths”.

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Despite the staggering numbers of fatalities, the issue is not always prioritised more broadly in policy and financing.

If the discussions held at the exchange in South Africa are an indication, it is safe to say city officials in the ACRoS network are determined to change this. The gathering highlighted three ways we can reframe and prioritise safe streets and roads for all.

1. Mobilising resources creatively

It is no secret that road safety is not always a priority for funding. Officials are already stretching limited budgets in their cities, and so the opportunity lies in leveraging new sources.

One idea entailed making it a core element in proposals for climate finance; after all, the link has already been established. Moreover, given the interdependencies of road safety with other issues, there may be opportunities to incorporate it in non-transport subjects such as public health, tourism, parks and recreation, and arts and culture.

Pulling together resources for specific interventions can also be powerful. For example, one of the many challenges highlighted during the visit is the need for better road markings and the decluttering of signs. There were even discussions about how to raise collective funds for better quality paint, as that is a challenge in several cities.

Similarly, there are examples of corporate players, such as insurance companies, who have partnered with cities like Johannesburg to provide support on light signalling during the country’s rotational electricity cuts. The private sector can undoubtedly be mobilised if we can more effectively convey that road safety makes business sense.

2. Working with and for the youth

According to Mdlangaso, over 50% of people who lost their lives on the roads of Cape Town are under 35 years of age, with similar figures in other African cities. The potential impact on our cities and countries cannot be overstated because a significant proportion of Africa’s population falls in this age bracket.

In response, efforts to create safe school zones are happening from Maputo to Kampala. Similarly, new forms of driver instruction are developing. In Monrovia, Liberia, the city government has for instance started a programme to train future drivers in a way that instils a sense of responsibility from an early age. With a curriculum emphasising road safety's importance, we may see a different driving culture emerge.

Even though many public campaigns aim to change the behaviour of pedestrians and other vulnerable road users, half the battle is won if motorists drive with care. Monrovia might be leading the way in shaping a generation of drivers who take responsibility.

Back in Cape Town, we learnt of a collaboration between the city government and a local NGO, ChildSafe SA, to roll out the ‘Walking Safely to School’ programme. This partnership has succeeded in not only raising awareness on this subject but also in leveraging international funding to build infrastructure on one particular street of Khayelitsha, Cape Town’s largest township.


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3. Learning across the Global South

Under the umbrella of ACRoS, city officials from Africa and the Middle East share experiences and build a common front for road safety. It is no easy feat, given the enormity of the challenge and the limited finances available.

Indeed, with most of the funding coming from the Global North, it is no surprise that road safety has fallen out of favour in recent years. After all, road safety continues to improve in that part of the world. For example, road safety fatalities in Europe decreased by 10% from 2019 to 2023.

Sharing and comparing similar challenges is key. While road safety in the Global North may be defined more in relation to fewer road accidents, cities in the Global South, for example, must contend with other issues like crime, inadequate reporting systems, faulty basic services and limited government capacity.

A week of walking, cycling, and experiencing a South African city firsthand highlighted the power of sharing experiences across similar contexts. As Mr. Gitau Thabanja, the City Manager from Nakuru, Kenya, highlighted, there is little comparison with New York, but seeing what Cape Town has done makes other African city officials believe they can do similar things in their city.

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