Greater Transport Safety for Bolivia

Sofia Salek de Braun, PTV Transport Safety Ambassador, has worked with actors from authorities and institutions in her homeland to develop a road safety charter.

Transport safety is a topic which is not very visible in many emerging and developing countries. Since 2016, Sofia Salek de Braun, PTV Solution Director Traffic Safety, has been working to achieve greater road transport safety in her homeland, Bolivia. On the occasion of the International Transport Forum in Leipzig, for which this year’s motto was “Transport Safety and Security”, we met her for an interview and spoke to her about current developments in this project. 

Compass: Sofia, when somebody mentions Bolivia, first people think of Lake Titicaca and then perhaps that it is one of the poorest countries in South America. Please describe the situation there for our readers. How does road transport work there, what is done to improve transport safety, how are transport paths and road construction designed?

Sofia Salek de Braun: In order to be able to understand the transport situation in Bolivia, it is important to be familiar with the background. Let me say a few words about my homeland: Bolivia is in the heart of South America. Geographically, it is surrounded by five countries: Argentina to the south, Paraguay to the south east, Brazil to the east and north, Peru to the north west and Chile to the south west. The area of Bolivia is approximately 1.1 million square kilometres and it has a multi-ethnic population which is estimated to be eleven million. Almost two-thirds of the people live in poverty. Bolivia’s geography is unique and characterized by extremes, with a climate that varies from humid and tropical to cold and semiarid depending on altitude. The topography ranges from the Andes over a highland plateau (Altiplano) down to hills and then into the tropical lowlands of the Amazon. The diversity of flora and fauna is understandably diverse, as is the ethnic diversity of the people that makes Bolivia a fascinating country. Nature has done a great job in Bolivia, but now Bolivians urgently need to solve some man-made problems such as the road safety problem.

Compass: Where is Bolivia with respect to its road safety as compared to other South American countries?

Sofia Salek de Braun: The topic of road safety is still in its infancy in Bolivia. Overall, Latin America has the world’s highest rate of road transport deaths. According to information from the World Health Organization (WHO, 2015), 23.2 people per 100,000 inhabitants die each year on Bolivia’s roads. More than half of the road network consists of unpaved roads, in many places there are no traffic signs or guidance. The pavements are narrow and in poor condition. There is also no infrastructure for bicyclists such as bicycle paths or bicycle lanes, and bus stops and clearly-defined parking spaces are lacking. Furthermore, the roads do not correspond to local circumstances and specific requirements. For example, a pavement near a school is not wider in order to guarantee the students’ safety. The consequence of this lacking organisation is the mixing of different road users, which often creates transport chaos. Good road safety laws and their enforcement are crucial in order to improve road users’ behaviour and reduce accidents in road transport – in Bolivia, unfortunately a negative report. Road transport is regulated by the road transport regulation created in 1973 and not updated since 1978. Currently there are no comprehensive statutory provisions that estimate risk factors. There are regulations for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, excessive speed, not having or wearing seat belts, safety helmets or using child seats, however these regulations are formulated so that the personal interpretations vary widely. An example: A helmet is mandatory for motorcycle riders, but whether it is on somebody’s head or lashed onto the luggage rack in the back is not clearly regulated by the law. The most basic international standards for transport safety do not exist in Bolivia. In summary, you can say that the road transport safety laws are in need of development and that enforcement and control must be improved.

Sofia Salek de Braun is often invited to speak at conferences. For the PTV Road Safety Ambassador Vision Zero is a personal mission.

Compass: This sounds like a big project. How have you proceeded there?

Sofia Salek de Braun: In November 2016, we travelled to Santa Cruz with a team of experts from scientific institutions, NGOs and industry. Our goal was, in practically oriented workshops, to sensitize all participating institutions about road safety and to give them a series of instruments which would allow them to manage, plan and develop an effective safety system. Another goal was to mobilise all levels of government, citizens’ organisations, universities and all participants in road transport and find a long-term solution for the problem of road transport safety. The reactions of the public and of the authorities on-site were overwhelming. “For the first time in Bolivia, members of national, regional and local governments sat down at the table with representatives from the police, universities, industry, media and voluntary organizations. Together, we analysed the current ACTUAL situation and formulated an action plan, a so-called “road safety charter for Bolivia,” tailored to the country’s individual needs; it should now be implemented step by step.”

Compass: Could you rely on past experience with the topic of transport safety?

Sofia Salek de Braun: Yes, with our software it is possible to integrate aspects of transport safety into strategic transport planning decisions from the very beginning. Furthermore, PTV has been a member of the European Charter for Road Transport Safety for many years. This is civil society’s largest platform for road transport safety under the leadership of the European Commission. From it come new experiences and expertise which can be used to further improve the transport situation. Furthermore, we have established a long-term cooperation in research and development with the University of Newcastle (UK).”

Compass: Meanwhile, has there been concrete progress, have measures already been implemented?

Sofia Salek de Braun: “Based on the positive resonance of the “Road Safety Workshop” in Bolivia, the Latin American Development Bank Corporación Andina de Fomento (CAF) decided to expand on this success by taking concrete steps. The CAF receives financial support for this from the Global Road Safety Facility (GRSF) – a partnership program of the World Bank. Since spring 2017, the CAF has been implementing the transport safety charter formulated in November 2016 continuously and positioning transport safety as an important topic for authorities, one which has to be considered when developing the country’s infrastructure. Meanwhile, the GRSF/CAF has compiled a team of experts which assists the country with the realization of a wide variety of measures. I will support this project and help with the implementation of planned steps. On the national level, for example, an agency for road transport safety will be established as the highest instance for the implementation of national transport safety policy and measures. A core of the considerations is the founding of an observatory which concerns itself explicitly with questions of transport safety and, with the help of a data collection system, collects, analyses and shares road accident data with the public.

Good practice management on the national level begins with the establishment and financing of such a lead agency, which works with vigour for safety in road transport within the government and society and ensures that sufficient public investments are made and allocated effectively. It coordinates activities with all stakeholders, formulates national strategies and goals. Furthermore, the project experts are formulating a national transport safety law based on the safe system approach.

On the local level, we are supporting four cities in the formulation of an action plan for road safety as part of their mobility concepts. Citizen initiatives on-site are key elements of any effective strategy.

In order to drive all of these measures forward, political will is an essential prerequisite. There is still a lot to do and there are many challenges, but we’re on a “safe” path.”

Read more about the road safety project in Bolivia:
Impulses for more road safety – a case example from Bolivia

This post is also available in: German