How one woman managed to (finally) put road safety on the agenda in Bolivia

The Bolivian capital La Paz is one of the cities for which road safety activities were developed.

Despite having only about half the world’s motor vehicles, low-middle income countries (LMICs) account for over 90% of the worldwide road traffic deaths. In Bolivia, 23.2 people per 100,000 inhabitants are killed on the road each year (WHO, 2015). Since 2016, our Road Safety Ambassador Sofia Salek de Braun has been fighting to help save lives – and she has been very successful: The issue of road safety in Bolivia is now on the political agenda.

“In order to be able to understand the transport situation in Bolivia, it is important to be familiar with the background. More than half of the road network consists of non-asphalted roads, and in many places, there are no traffic signs or traffic guidance systems,” says Sofia Salek de Braun. “Sidewalks are in poor condition and there is no infrastructure for cyclists, such as cycle paths or cycle lanes. Also, there are no bus stops or clearly defined parking lots.”

To improve the behavior of road users and reduce road traffic crashes, road safety laws and their enforcement are an essential part – unfortunately, these do not exist in Bolivia. So far road traffic has been regulated by the Highway Code, which was created in 1973. It has not been updated since 1978. But Bolivia has changed substantially in the last 41 years, the number of vehicles increased tremendously, the people have migrated from the countryside to the cities and the motorway infrastructure has been continuously upgraded.

“There is no comprehensive legislation addressing the risk factors. Driving under the influence of alcohol or illicit drugs, excessive speed, the lack of safety belts, safety helmets or child seats are partly covered by regulations, but they are formulated in such a way that they leave wide scope for personal interpretation,” Sofia explains and gives an example: “A helmet is mandatory for motorcyclists, but whether they wear it or whether it is strapped to the back of the luggage carrier is not clearly regulated.”

Putting road safety on the agenda in Bolivia

Sofia Salek de Braun, PTV’s Road Safety Ambassador.

Sofia Salek de Braun kick-started her commitment to road safety in Bolivia at the end of 2016. With a team of experts from science, industry and NGOs she organized a one week hands-on ‘Road Safety Workshop’ in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. The main aim of the event was to sensitize all participating institutions to the topic of road safety and to provide them with tools, enabling them to manage, plan and develop an effective road safety system. It was important to mobilize all levels of government, police, civic organizations, universities, and all road stakeholders to find a sustainable solution for the prevailing road safety issues.

“The response from the public and local authorities was overwhelming,” Sofia remembers. “For the first time, members of national, regional and local governments were sitting at the same table with representatives from the police, universities, industry, media and civil society organizations – an absolute novelty in Bolivia.”

One of the most important results of the workshop was the elaboration of a “Road Safety Charter for Bolivia”, which was signed by all attending organizations as the base for a road safety strategy They agreed to establish a governing authority for road safety policies at national level and committed themselves to further undertakings.

Technical cooperation

Based on the positive response to the Road Safety Workshop in Bolivia, the Latin American development bank Corporación Andina de Fomento (CAF) decided to build on its success by taking concrete steps.

Since spring 2017, CAF with resources from the Global Road Safety Facility (GRSF) has continuously implemented the Road Safety Charter and has positioned road safety together with the authorities as an important issue that must be part of the country’s infrastructure development. A team of experts including Salek de Braun was formed to help the country implement a wide range of measures in the field of technical cooperation. The project team received permission from the Ministry of Government of the Plurinational State of Bolivia to work on the outdated Highway Code and to accompany the elaboration of the preliminary draft law on traffic and road safety.

Outcomes and outlook to the future on Bolivia’s Roads

In February 2019, the technical cooperation was completed successfully. It helped develop road safety activities in 4 cities and at national level: a 5-year Road Safety Action Plan was elaborated for two cities (Santa Cruz & Tarija), the local government even proclaimed that there will be a local law that will support the implementation of the plan. The road safety situation in El Alto was examined, and an alternative fine scheme was developed in La Paz as well as several trainings on different road safety issues. The elaboration and revision of the Preliminary Draft Law on traffic and road safety was accompanied at national level. It will be the framework of the institutional arrangement of Bolivia’s Road Safety Policy.

As a closing event of this technical cooperation and to deepen the topic of Road Safety, a two-day Road Safety Workshop was organized in cooperation with the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) through its Transformative Urban Mobility Initiative (TUMI) and instructed by Despacio and WRI. Not only the representatives of the municipal governments of the four cities took part, but also representatives of the national and regional government, police, universities, NGOs, civil society and media. “My personal highlight of the final workshop was that the Vice Minister of Citizen Security Wilfredo Chavez (in charge of Road Safety) took part and actively contributed to this topic. This highlighted the importance of the topic and proved that it has reached the highest political level,” says Salek de Braun. “Only three years ago, the topic of Road Safety was still in its infancy in Bolivia. Now there are action plans, educated stakeholders, draft laws as well as the awareness and the will to push the issue forward to finally make Bolivia’s roads safer. But there are still many challenges to face. Road safety is a process that requires ongoing commitment.”

Read more about the activities of PTV’s Road Safety Ambassador, Sofia Salek de Braun:

Impulses for more road safety – a case example from Bolivia

Greater transport safety in Bolivia

A woman, a mission: safer roads worldwide

Road safety: right of way for vision zero