The conference, under the patronage of His Excellency Sheikh Abdullah Bin Naser Bin Khalifa Al-Thani, was opened with a prestigious ceremony. The chairperson of the organizing committee, Brigadier Mohamad Al Malki reinforced his commitment to the UN’s call for action regarding the millions of avoidable deaths occurring on our highways.
International Traffic Medicine Association
The President, Lars Englund, introduced the organization: founded by concerned doctors in Italy in 1963, the Association brought together doctors and engineers to create a multidisciplinary approach to traffic medicine. The organization’s role was to improve the outcomes of road traffic accidents, introducing life saving ideas and technologies.
The theme of this year’s congress was “Traffic Medicine and Safety in the Fast Developing Countries”. These countries, which include Qatar, have a unique set of challenges in traffic medicine and road safety.
The rapid increase in the number of cars on Qatar’s roads, from 130,000 in 1996 to 1,000,000 in 2014, has vastly changed driving conditions. This expansion, combined with different driving customs and rules, can create chaos. With little experience of powerful cars or fast multi-lane highways, inexperienced drivers unfamiliar with local customs are mixed with experienced local drivers with a totally different set of expectations.
Mortality and Morbidity
Improving traffic injury treatment requires a combination of education, timing and process. There is a ‘golden window’ within which patients’ survival is dramatically increased if the critical care team can reach the accident in time.
Health & Life spoke with paramedics about the problem of ambulances being hit by drivers not paying attention, specifically at intersections. Some drivers also lack respect for these critical vehicles and are not aware of, or willing to abide by, laws requiring these vehicles to be given priority (the fine for not giving way to an ambulance, or driving close behind it, is QR500, which seems very little compared with the seriousness of the offence).
Statistical analysis of mortalities (deaths) and morbidities (injuries) resulting from Road Traffic Accidents (RTAs) is a key tool. By reviewing global figures, patterns and opportunities for change can be identified. It is estimated that the global deaths resulting from RTAs has reduced from 1.25 million in 2007 to 1 million in 2011 — but these figures include a wide margin of error due to differences in reporting rates.
While Europe has seen a significant decline in accident fatalities, indicating an overall improvement in road safety, Arab nations are experiencing a worrying increase. This is a general trend seen in developing countries across Asia, and fast developing countries like Qatar. As the number of road users increases, so does the number of accidents, and more crowded roads have more severe accidents.
Experience from Oman
Dr Abdulla Almaniri, Director of Strategic Research Programs for the Research Council in Oman, covered two key traffic safety improvement projects undertaken there.
The Heavy Vehicle Safety Project was developed to understand the reasons for the high accident figures among lorries and other large transport vehicles. When heavy vehicles are involved in accidents, the chances of fatality and serious injury are much higher and accidents are more costly to recover.
To gain a better understanding of the situation, they went undercover. Safety officers got jobs as drivers in haulage companies and ‘disguised’ themselves as immigrant workers. What they found shocked them and revealed why there were so many accidents. The main problems were:
- Overloading of vehicles, making them less safe to drive
- Use of drink and drugs for recreation and also to delay sleep
- Excessive hours on the road, reducing alertness and capability
- Routine use of mobile phones and other distractions while driving
- Poor tyre quality, leading to increased risk of dangerous high speed blow-outs
- Poor vehicle maintenance, reducing overall safety and introducing unnecessary risks
They also discovered that the punishments for detected infringement, when a driver got caught, were ineffective. Enforcement procedures were slow, thus reducing the impact of any action. Typically the company would pay a relatively small fine for an infringement that had the potential to wreck the lives of many individuals.
Based on the results of the undercover research and review of penalties, changes have been introduced in Oman to:
- Speed up the enforcement process and deliver swifter penalties
- Increase the size and severity of fines to more adequately reflect the potential for harm
- Make penalties personal so drivers are accountable for their actions
Dr Abdullah also reported on a second intriguing project focusing on young driver safety. The Novice Driver Safety Project utilized Social Learning Theory (the influence of peers, rewards and punishments) to assess risks in driver behavior.
They interviewed young drivers to identify risk-taking behaviors and found that 45 percent had driven both unlicensed and uninsured. These drivers had the most risky behaviors, including excessive speed and lack of regard for other road users. They also found the MOST risky young drivers were those who had been caught driving unlicensed and uninsured and received just a verbal warning. This subpopulation of 16 percent who had experience of ‘getting away with it’ had the worst driver behavior and represented the highest risk to themselves and other road users.
The Project revealed that a disregard of driving law, and negative attitude, lead to the most risky driving behavior — attributed to the positive correlation between this behavior and enjoyment. Regardless of perceived punishment, the adrenaline and ‘rush’ of positive hormones when executing dangerous high-speed maneuvers is addictive. Young adults need other forms of entertainment that allow them to experience the reward pathways of the brain in a controlled and safe manner.
The Findings from Canada
Professor Donald Redelmeir, ITMA Regional Director for Canada, delivered the final speech of the opening afternoon with his overview of critical factors to consider regarding road safety. The first area for consideration was culture, initiated with a presentation of road signs commonly used in Canada which would be completely out of place in Qatar: danger of avalanche; skidoo-crossing; danger of wild animals; icy roads. The culture of the community of road users is critical to the accident prevention strategies employed.
The huge diversity in cultural driving habits found here in Qatar creates vastly different driving behaviors. This difference in expectation and actions has the potential to create a lot of confusion, frustration and even chaos. Standardization of habits and application of road rules is a must if road safety is to be enhanced. Basically, we all need to be following the same rules.
The worldwide public perception of traffic enforcement and enforcement officers has often been negative: aversive, confrontational and generally unpleasant. However, the future of enforcement, vital to safety, is looking completely different: sophisticated cameras and radar systems. It is cheaper, more effective, unbiased and most importantly “automatic enforcement never sleeps”.
Health & Life magazine spoke with vendors at the conference, one of whom is already installing futuristic systems right here in Qatar, and all around the GCC region, with great success:
“KTC aims to help people change their driving attitude and understand the importance of road safety, consequently saving lives. We are using multi-tracking (4-D radar), which has the ability to identify lanes, classify vehicles, detect tailgating and calculate average speed with built in 24/7 surveillance recording systems.”
Smart Laws Smartly Enforced
Professor Redelmeier concluded with the concept of smart enforcement: policies driven by evidence and enforced effectively — reiterating what other presenters had said about the way forward. For example, many accidents (such as hitting ambulances) occur at intersections; simply adding a one-second delay to the red light timing (keeping all lights red) can significantly reduce crashes, and the public doesn’t even notice the timing change, as traffic flow is not impacted. Combine this with red light cameras and you have a smart law being smartly enforced, saving the lives of drivers and pedestrians.
The Future of Driving
The final surprise of the conference was driverless cars, being developed by Carnegie University right here in Qatar. The reality of cars driving themselves, much more safely than under human control, is very close. Successful tests have been completed around the world, however, the inventors acknowledge that more testing is still required — specifically, the car would need to ‘learn’ how to drive in Qatar!
From the expert presentations and the display of futuristic enforcement equipment already being introduced, it is apparent that drivers can willingly change their driving behaviors and attitudes, or be forced to. To protect the public, policies and strategies are being rapidly developed and implemented globally and here in Qatar.
Traffic is a hot topic of debate and conversation in Qatar. We’d like your opinions and ideas. If you could introduce smart laws and automatic enforcements what would they be? Contact us…References