By Hifza Irfan and Muhammad Zaman
The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is one of the biggest projects in transportation, freight, road, rail, air, and maritime linkage in the history of the world, but it concerns itself inadequately with road safety. Out of 1.2 to 1.3 trillion US$, the transport investment is 144 billion to 304 billion.[i] BRI transport projects are estimated to increase trade by between 2.8 and 9.7% for corridor economies (Pakistan, Indonesia and African continent) and between 1.7 and 6.2% for the world (ibid). With this huge volume of trade, one may ask: are road safety, carbon emission, environmental degradation and smog mitigating measures adopted in this mega initiative? BRI transport projects will contribute to lifting 7.6 million people from extreme poverty and 32 million people from moderate poverty (Ibid) but will security and safety of the road users be considered adequately?
The major focus of the BRI is on the road linkage within Pakistan, across regions and on a global scale. In the last 7 years, China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has invested over 11 billion US$ in Pakistan on road infrastructure. Several motorways (M3, M5 etc.), highways and metro transport (for example the orange line rail in Lahore) were constructed and launched. Dualization and upgradation of the ML 1 rail link is under consideration, and Gwadar port is partially functional under CPEC. Nevertheless, Pakistan has the highest number of transportation and freights projects but without adequate concern for road safety.
Globally, 1.35 million per year and 3700 persons per day die of road accidents.[ii] It is one of the leading causes of death in low- and middle-income countries. Low- and middle-income countries have 9% vehicles, but 44% road accidents and technologically advanced countries have 44% vehicles with 9% road accidents. Notably, Africa 26.6 %, South East Asia 20.7% , Americas 15.6% and Europe 9.3% per 100000 and 18.2% deaths in the World (ibid). Economic loss of these road crashes and human causality is about 4% of the GDP of the low- and middle-income countries. However, there is inadequate concern about road safety measures.
State of the road affairs is getting worse in Pakistan where approximately 27582 people died every year with 50,000 disabilities (ibid). It can be estimated that road accidents take place almost every minute around the country. This loss is over 4% of the GDP and higher than the defense budget of the country.[iii] Road crashes are a direct threat to public health.[iv] Surprisingly, the road crashes loss in Pakistan are higher than the road, rail and maritime route construction’s total costs per year. However, neither the Government of Pakistan, nor CPEC authority realize the implication of human and financial loss (ibid). For road safety, one can find the dearth of research as well as calculation and its realization at the state, academics as well as societal level in the country.
Pakistan has over 80% family dependency rate. If an earning hand of the family becomes a victim of a road crash, the whole family is affected. A person is completely dependent on the family from birth to death. The hardcore capitalist state has very less or nothing to do with the welfare of an individual. Rather, state institutions take an individual as a mere appendix of the family roles. If a person is victim of the road crashes, only family is responsible to look after and take care in terms of treatment, rehabilitation, welfare and managing the economic loss. State institutions, contrary to Germany, are alienated from the wellbeing and care of the individuals. Therefore, the loss and burden of the road crashes is only on the part of the individual’s family and his relatives in low- and middle-income countries like Pakistan.
With the construction of the road infrastructure in Pakistan, the increasing motorization and thereby speed acceleration has increased the risks of the road insecurity in manifolds. Speeding up, careless driving, weak licensing system,[v] inadequate electronic monitoring of the roads, nominal fines on motorways and highways have deteriorated road safety and thus increasing risks that result in accidents and crashes in Pakistan.[vi] There is a very low rate of convictions due to road crashes. Fatal accidents are treated as a matter of bad luck and destiny in Pakistan.
Although motorways constructed under CPEC are relatively safe, there is need to focus more on road safety. It is paramount that CPEC under BRI increases the safety measures of the vehicles (through road construction, vehicle standardization with safety features like ABS, EBS, Airbags etc.) and also electronic surveillance, emergency services and rehabilitation centers on the highways. In addition, there is a strong need to have in-depth research to gauge human behavior related to road safety.
Meanwhile, compulsory safety gadgets use can reduce the fatal accidents. For instance, helmet use on motorcycle can reduce 42% fatal injury and 69% reduction in head injury. Similarly, wearing the seat belt can reduce 45-50% risks of death and 25-35% on the rear seat. A ban on underage driving can reduce 45-59% fatal injuries and deaths by 60%. About 60-62% death and injuries can be decreased due to prevention of the use of smart phones and other devices. A 5 km/h reduction in speed can reduce fatalities up to 30% on roads (ii). These measures can be integrated within the CPEC transportation projects with compulsory careful road constructions, electronic monitoring, usage of the smart technologies and effective governance through training and road safety awareness on the CPEC routes in order to ensure road safety. So as to secure the roads and save human lives, it is essential to promote smart urban transportation systems within metropolitan and urban spaces (and on highways) rather than mere construction of the highways.
 World Bank. (2019). Belt and Road economics: opportunities and risks of transport corridors. The World Bank.
 World Health Organization. (2018). Global status report on road safety 2018: Summary (No. WHO/NMH/NVI/18.20). World Health Organization.
 Ministry of Communication. Government of Pakistan. National Road Safety Strategy 2018- 2030. (2018). Accessed on July 15, 2022. Available from URL: http://www.roadsafetypakistan.pk/download/Pakistan-National-Road-Safety-Strategy-2018-2030.pdf
 Zaman, M. (2019, July 5). Road Safety in Pakistan: A Serious Challenge to Public Health. Daily Times, Retrieved from https://dailytimes.com.pk/424048/road-safety-in-pakistan-a-serious-challenge-to-public-health/
 Zaman, M. (2019b, Sep 19). Speeding of Vehicles. Daily Times, Retrieved from https://dailytimes.com.pk/468323/speeding-of-vehicles/
 vi. Zaman, M. (2020, July 2). Licensing in Pakistan. Daily Times, Retrieved from https://dailytimes.com.pk/634684/licensing-in-pakistan/