In Senegal, two major traffic crashes in just eight days killed 62 people, reviving the question of road safety standards in Senegal and across Africa. The continent is home to the highest rate of road fatalities in the world. Experts blame a dangerous mix of poor infrastructure and driver education as well as low-quality imports.
Rusted buses fill Dakar’s roads at rush hour. Passengers hang off the back doors, while teenagers on rollerblades cling to the sides, dodging horse carts and unpainted speed bumps. There are no traffic lights or stop signs — cars have the right of way and pedestrians cross at high risk.
Road conditions outside Senegal’s major cities can feel even more dangerous, where packed buses barrel down two-lane potholed roads, their roofs piled with mountains of cargo and sheep. There are no medians or street lights and farm animals roam freely into unchecked traffic.
On Monday it was a donkey that caused a public bus to swerve and collide with a truck in the country’s northern region of Louga. Twenty-two people were killed and 28 injured.
Just eight days prior, 40 people were killed and about 80 injured in a crash in Senegal’s southeastern Kaffrine region. A tire had burst, sending a passenger bus into the path of another oncoming bus.
The government responded by banning night bus trips between districts and outlawed used tire imports.
Worst traffic fatality rate in world
At 26.6 deaths per 100,000 people, Africa has the worst rate of traffic fatalities in the world — nearly triple that of Europe, according to a 2018 report by the World Health Organization.
Christopher Kost, the Africa Program Director at the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, an urban planning nonprofit, says that in order to improve road safety, African countries need to shift public transportation business models.
“In so many African countries, we’re still operating with a target system where driver incomes are directly related to the number of people they carry. And as a result, they rush as fast as possible to the destination, and that leads to a lot of the road safety challenges that we have,” he said.
Switching to a salary system would incentivize drivers to drive safely instead of cramming their buses full and speeding to their destinations, Kost said.
Carolyne Mimano, a partnerships manager also with the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, says public transport could be further improved by limiting the age of buses, increasing bus inspections, and capping driver hours.
Within cities, governments have many options to improve safety. African city streets are shared by cars, pedestrians, cyclists, street vendors and even horse carts, yet planning efforts focus only on vehicles, Mimano said.
Pedestrians in Africa represent 40% of all road traffic deaths, compared to 23% globally, according to the WHO.
“We still have that car centric approach to transport planning,” Mimano said. “Even with road crashes, we think that the solution is to expand the road. And that doesn’t really solve the problem. What actually happens is people speed more.”
Improvement is possible. Mimano points to Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, which has speed cameras and salaried bus drivers, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, which has elevated pedestrian crosswalks, wide sidewalks, and 21 kilometers of dedicated bus lanes.
“Africa and its development partners must prioritize road safety in their national budgets at a level that is commensurate to the burden and develop and implement national road safety programs in a way that engages all of the government including health, transport, education, finance and trade sectors,” said Nneka Henry, the head of the United Nations Road Safety Fund.
Senegal sees an average of 745 road fatalities per year, with most deadly accidents occurring at night, according to Senegal’s information bureau.