Benchmarking and improving road safety in western Balkan countries: a focus on Albania

Andreas Beavor looks at the social and economic problems caused by hazardous roads in the Western Balkans, particularly in Albania, and how IMC is working with the Government to help address this.

Monday 06 July 2015

Albania has been through a lot in the past four decades. The brutal communist era under Enver Hoxha gave way to chaos during the 1990s which included the loss of the majority of live savings of up to a third of the population through Ponzi pyramid banking schemes, widely supported by government officials; breakdown of public order and the rise of mafias and militias; and the widely felt impact of the neighbouring Kosovo conflict in 1999.

But that was then and this is now. In June 2014, the Republic of Albania became an official candidate for accession to the European Union.

Today, while the country is still facing many problems, Albania is a much stronger economy, has a dedicated and increasingly effective public sector and an increasingly well-educated population.

These days, driving, being a passenger or walking across or beside a road is the single most dangerous activity for the 3 million people living and working in the country today.

Road safety remains one of the most damaging aspects of modern Albania, robbing communities and familes of approximately 300 loved ones each year, breaking down livelihoods as family breadwinners are injured or killed and generally costing the government millions of euros every year in health, rehabilitation and compensation costs.

Road conditions are poor, especially in rural areas. Street lighting can be non-existent, and where it does exist, it is susceptible to power interruptions. Aggressive and often erratic driving patterns have resulted from a serious lack of adequate driving instruction and poorly designed constructed and maintained roads.

As a result, Albania has the worst road safety statistics in the Western Balkan states, as demonstrated in the figure below.

News_Balkans road safety

Source: SEETIS III, IRTAD (* data 2011)

Having said that, Albania is making significant progress in road safety performance. The past 5 years have actually seen a decrease in fatalities by 18%.

A Road Safety Strategy put in place in 2009 has provided much needed focus and directed public funds towards identifying accident black spots, training public sector staff in road safety policy and design requirements and has started to address public awareness of road safety issues and better practice. However, much more needs to be done.

Moving forward

IMC Worldwide is assisting the Western Balkan states to benchmark current road safety systems, procedures and to build capacity in this area. Funded by the EBRD, we are working to identify gaps in current public and private sector road safety and will provide training at an appropriate level and to targeted representatives.

The training began in June and will continue until the end of 2015.

In Albania, there is already a good system in place for recording and analysing road accidents, whereas places such as Bosnia currently have no evidence base to work with. The Albanian Roads Authority is particularly interested in improving its Road Safety Auditing knowledge and procedures, helping to address road safety issues at the design stage, as well as how to better address accident blackspots with cost effective solutions.

An important aspect of improving the road safety capability of a government is the accessibility to appropriate funds. IMC is also advising on how to set out a business case for road safety funding with the ability to estimate the savings that road safety interventions would have in terms of reducing health and social support costs.

The potential impact of this project is enormous, particularly as we are making efforts to coordinate with other donors active in road safety in the Balkans, such as the EU and the World Bank.

A joined up approach will enable the government to draw on appropriate expertise and knowledge offered by IMC, building on past training and developing towards more ambitious road safety systems.

Many lives will be saved and countless accidents and injuries prevented as the government of Albania is able to ensure that roads are designed and audited to maximise road safety, that known problem areas are improved.

Our work will also inform the upcoming World Bank project that will go further in terms of addressing accreditation of road safety audit expertise, increasing public awareness and behavioural change and linking road safety to improved road asset management and maintenance.

For more information, please contact project Team Leader Matt Chamberlain (matthew.chamberlain@imcworldwide.com).

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