For males in Kuwait, traffic accidents are the second leading cause of death (after heart disease) with about 40 deaths per 100,000. For women, the number is much less at 8 deaths per 100,000. Something is very wrong with that number and it scares the hell out of me. Driving in Kuwait is more dangerous than the risk of cancer. Reducing traffic accidents would have the same effect as curing cancer. Imagine that.
If we can bring the risk of death for males down to the more normal level of women we would save the lives of 300 people every year, people you know and love. Sadly, everyone knows a dear friend or a family member that died in an accident. These are mostly preventable deaths and it’s a disgrace that this is not our highest national priority. There are an average of 453 traffic fatalities per year.
There have been some good steps taken to get us on the right track. The ‘National Traffic and Transport Sector Strategy 2009-2019 for Kuwait’ has some good ideas about smart data collection. They propose reforming the way police officers collect accident data so that the information is standardized and includes GPS coordinates of the events. That way they can create a detailed map with a historical record of where accidents frequently occurred so they can identify ‘black spots’ which are high frequency accident areas. Those are good ideas, but I don’t think they’re radical enough. We need more. What do I want by 2030?
- Traffic related deaths to plummet from 400 per year to 100.
- Foolproof anti-speeding system
- Web based, real time traffic map
- The ability to choose a car free lifestyle
I think these are all realistic and achievable goals and the technology exists today to make it happen. The steps we need to take are somewhat drastic but necessary to solve the problem:
- Blanket the country with average speed cameras.
- Link the data collected by the cameras with an open-source traffic map API so cars, phones and computers have access to a real time map showing traffic on all major roads.
- Since average speed cameras use infra red, you wouldn’t know when you were caught speeding. No flash. To avoid this, cars would be linked with the mobile phone number of the owner and receives an SMS every time they get caught.
- Traffic police to install cameras on their dashboard to record what goes on and any harassment of police officers that might occur. Yes, it happens.
- Implement NIRIS, which is the system I mentioned about accident data collection reform.
- Sticker prices of cars must include the cost of petrol that the car would consume in a year.
- Cameras everywhere and especially at ‘black spots’ and highway overpasses to stop dangerous driving such as overtaking on one lane flyovers. I’m sure there’s a way to automate the system so that dangerous driving could be flagged and a police car alerted to the situation.
- Very slow driving should be penalized as heavily as speeding and can result in revoked licenses.
- A congestion pricing system for traffic going in and out of the city during rush hour. If it costs 1KD every time you go into or out of Kuwait City during rush hour, you’d see a lot more people using public transportation. See Salik in Dubai.
- Gradually and loudly reduce and eventually abolish the fuel subsidy. This will make it more expensive to drive and incentivize people to use public transport. The revenue generated will be given back to Kuwaitis as a rebate. If you drive less, you still get the same amount as someone that drives a lot more, so you might profit.
- Invest a lot more in public transport infrastructure; buses, bus stops with real time maps of where the buses are (it’s so easy to do once you have the data), the metro, real bus lanes, better pedestrian safety. Make it easy for people to live without a car and they will drive less.
The situation today allows people to speed without consequence. Everyone knows how to game the system. We have to make it so hard to avoid punishment that it becomes practically impossible to get away with speeding. Current camera technology can allow us to do that. We can stop speeding on major roads and that’s generally considered the main cause of fatal accidents. Awareness and marketing campaigns are useless and do nothing but waste time and money. We need strict rule enforcement and penalties. Nothing else works.
Our ultimate goal should be to reduce fatalities, ease traffic and lower pollution. A comprehensive plan should include investing in alternative modes of transportation as well as better driver education during licensing and strict penalties and enforcement. In the end this has to be a serious national project. I want to constantly see giant numbers on buildings and newspapers showing the average number of deaths in the past year and to show that number go down every week. This is way more important that petty political squabbles and insignificant pay rises. We can sort of cure cancer.