Road safety investment is crucial, responsible

By John Sun 孫以濬  / 

Sun, Feb 19, 2017 - Page 6

A tour bus crashed in Taipei’s Nangang District (南港) on Monday night, killing 33 people and injuring 11. While the cause of the accident remains under investigation, the heavy casualties suggest that multiple factors were involved, including human error and problems with both the vehicle and the road, as well as the law.

Did the driver work longer hours than the legal limit? Was he overworked? Was he speeding when the accident occurred? Did the vehicle have structural problems? Did the bus have all the required safety equipment? Were there sufficient road signs alerting the driver of the turn where the accident occurred? Were the guard rails on the road well designed? Are current regulations on tour buses and operators too loose and have they been properly enforced?

Every time there is a major traffic accident, there will be media attention and the government will debate and review the situation. Nevertheless, similar accidents continue to occur.

In the international community, the Swedish government 20 years ago adopted its “Vision Zero” project to achieve zero road fatalities. Following Sweden, the US and many other countries in Europe and Asia have also adopted a wide range of measures to minimize such fatalities.

The UN has already made improving road safety one of its major objectives, treating it as a human rights issue. This suggests that improving road safety is not only an issue for the regulatory traffic authorities, but also involves the health, welfare, interior affairs, education, justice, labor, economic affairs, fiscal and police authorities. In order to make roads in Taiwan safer, the Executive Yuan must make sure there is cooperation between all of them.

The Executive Yuan is reportedly working on an economic stimulus strategy it calls a “forward-looking infrastructure plan.” The plan, to be announced in the near future, is said to include projects to build new railways, improve the nation’s “renewable energy” and water systems and revitalize urban and rural development, as well as the IT sector.

While the proposal is still being finalized, the Cabinet should consider adding plans to promote road safety to ensure that the proposed infrastructure improvements will make the nation safer.

The plans should aim to achieve zero road fatalities by 2025 and include measures that take into account four key aspects: people, vehicles, roads and laws.

The people considered should include drivers, passengers, pedestrians and cyclists; the vehicles should include buses, trucks, automobiles, motorcycles, scooters and bicycles; and the roads should include freeways, provincial and county highways, streets and railways. In addition, the plans should improve law enforcement and develop the institutional infrastructure.

Studies have shown that economic losses due to road fatalities and injuries are as high as 3.1 percent of the nation’s GDP. Considering that, investing more money into improving the nation’s road safety is the right thing to do.

John Sun is president of the Taipei Society of Traffic Safety.

Translated by Tu Yu-an