The work carried out by Vias, formerly known as IBSR (Institut Belge pour la Sécurité Routière - Belgian Institute for Road Safety), is also relevant in Africa where road traffic is on the increase and so is the number of accidents.
Since the number of road accidents is increasing, particularly in Africa, Belgian expertise in the field of road safety is gradually expanding to embrace international collaboration. Vias is an effective instrument for improving safety on our Belgian roads and the institute is increasingly becoming a key partner in tackling road safety challenges in French-speaking Africa. These new stakes are part of the sustainable development goals (SDGs) and although complex, they are in no way impossible to overcome, according to Jean-François Gaillet, Vias’ Technical & Innovation Director.
The Vias Institute - previously known as IBSR (Institut Belge pour la Sécurité Routière - Belgian Institute for Road Safety) - has been a key player in the Belgian road landscape for almost 30 years. Vias tries to change drivers’ behaviour through strong messages and high-profile advertising campaigns, such as the Bob campaign aiming to raise awareness of the dangers of drink driving. The institute also provides recommendations to public authorities to improve infrastructure (road signs, pavement quality, lighting, speed bumps, etc.), strengthen driving rules (speed, licenses, etc.) and also aims to raise road users’ awareness of the appropriate behaviour to adopt.
Reducing road accident victims, a Sustainable Development Goal
The statistical results are excellent: Belgium can be proud of its constantly lower road traffic mortality rate from year to year despite an ever-increasing number of vehicles. Vias’ role is essential in achieving these results.
Unfortunately, this trend towards safer roads is not occurring everywhere in the world, especially not on the African continent, which is also experiencing an unprecedented explosion in road traffic. Statistical data are sorely lacking, and situations differ from one region to another, but the situation is clear: the increase in traffic density in Africa has a direct impact on the number of accidents. Local authorities are gradually becoming aware of this trend.
The increase in traffic density in Africa has a direct impact on the number of accidents. Local authorities are gradually becoming aware of this trend.
Many measures need to be introduced, both in terms of infrastructure and behaviour, to limit the collateral damage, often fatal, caused by the extreme increase in road traffic in African countries. This refers to one of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), namely SDG 3.6 (= “by 2020, halve the number of global deaths and injuries from road traffic accidents”).
For Jean-François Gaillet, Technical & Innovation Director of Vias and initiator of the development projects in Africa, “the challenges are huge in terms of road safety on the African continent and an institute such as Vias has an important role to play in this regard because there are no comparable institutions in Africa yet.
Furthermore, our services differ from those offered by other European players. Our strength is being able to offer a wide range of skills within the same centre of expertise and to rely on more than one hundred collaborators including researchers and academic engineers, psychologists, field experts or even legal advisors and other consultants. We can be involved in the policy making process, but also in the field. For example, we can carry out road safety inspections, train civil servants, organise road safety campaigns or work together with schools”.
We can be involved in the policy making process, but also in the field. For example, we can carry out road safety inspections, train civil servants, organise road safety campaigns or work together with schools.
Focus on transfer of knowledge
Vias is an independent and multidisciplinary knowledge centre which relies on an integrated and innovative approach to provide solutions to legislative, (infra)structural, technological and social problems. This method has already proved its worth in Belgium and aims now to achieve international recognition, with a special focus on cooperation with French-speaking African countries.
In response to calls for tenders launched by the Belgian development agency Enabel, the European Union or the World Bank, Vias was entrusted with the execution of various international cooperation projects, such as exchanges of experts with Algeria, the setting up of a database for road accidents in Cameroon or the creation of a real African Road Safety Observatory at a more regional level in collaboration with other partners under the umbrella of a European project (Horizon 2020).
Vias focuses mainly on the transfer of knowledge, and also on promoting local investment. According to Jean-François Gaillet, local financing resources for the development of safer infrastructure are available or feasible in Africa. “This must be achieved through indirect funding. In Burkina Faso, for example, brewers use some of their beer deposit money to invest in road signs.
Other local financing options are being explored through retrocessions on car insurance policy or fuel at gas station. Structural funding is required to ensure the creation of sustainable structures with skilled workers and the necessary capacity to carry out their tasks.”The Director of Vias is all the more optimistic because, according to him, “the leaders of African countries are increasingly aware that road safety is a priority because their communities, but also international bodies such as the World Health Organisation, are urging them to implement concrete actions to this end. It is now obvious to everyone that investing in road safety is actually marginal in terms of both the human and economic costs caused by road accidents.”
Vias was entrusted with the execution of various international cooperation projects, such as exchanges of experts with Algeria, the setting up of a database for road accidents in Cameroon or the creation of a real African Road Safety Observatory.
Road safety is also a cultural pre-requisite
Beyond investments in road signs, for example, the greatest challenge may be to change road users’ behaviour. Since improvements in our country have only made an impact after decades of intensive awareness-raising campaigns, what will happen in Africa? In many African countries, driving licenses are often obtained far too easily and roadworthiness testing is not very efficient. As Jean-François Gaillet points out, it is also necessary to take into account the cultural elements that undoubtedly affect the traffic approach according to the origin and level of education of all drivers. There is an enormous amount of work still to be done in terms of judicial control and monitoring of major offenders in countries where the police is often under-equipped to carry out controls and where corruption is still very prevalent.
Vias’ broad range of skills also allows the institute to play a role in building a more inclusive society. In Belgium, the Vias Institute also certifies vehicles adapted to people with reduced mobility: another know-how that also deserves to be promoted in developing countries.
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