Ethiopia is one of the most dangerous places to drive in Africa. That’s why a long-range project begins next week to teach Ethiopians how to be better drivers and police how to be better enforcers of traffic laws.
Peter Termeulen, head of the International Road Safety Academy in the Netherlands, calls Ethiopia’s traffic death rate “incredible.” For every 10,000 vehicles in Ethiopia, 180 people die in traffic-related accidents. That compares to the United States where about 21 people die in traffic related accidents for every 100,000 vehicles.
“Too many people are really dying due to crashes. It’s an unacceptable situation in Ethiopia besides hunger and all kinds of terrible diseases. Traffic is one of the main causes of the fatalities in Addis Ababa,” he says.
In 2004, the United Nations passed a resolution calling on rich nations to help developing countries improve road safety. Termeulen says that same year, the World Health Organization asked the International Road Safety Academy to develop a program for Ethiopia.
“We are going to start first training on enforcement and secondly to establish a regional academy in Addis Ababa for the entire region and to bring international knowledge on the local level,” he says.
He says it’s not simply a matter of Ethiopians being bad drivers. It’s more a matter of their “not being educated” about road safety.
“The problem is there is no real driver training. There is no enforcement. There is no real education for traffic. So people have no understanding of the danger of traffic. And at the moment they are improving the infrastructure, but at the same time people have no perception of the dangers. So people are dying everyday on the roads simply because they don’t understand the danger,” he says.”
Ethiopians do take tests before being granted a driver’s license, but Termeulen says those tests do not meet international standards.
The director of the International Road Safety Academy says improving traffic safety in Ethiopia will take a long time. He started similar programs in Russia, Romania, Moldavia, Turkey and Cyprus.