​​​​​​​Accommodating specialneeds of children in infrastructure design

30Jun 2020
Crispin Gerald
Dar es Salaam
The Guardian
​​​​​​​Accommodating specialneeds of children in infrastructure design

​​​​​​​“EVERY day, me and my friends spend one hour on the road to and from school. We cross a road that is full of motor vehicles and motorcycles,”

“We always face difficulties when we want to cross the road to get to school earlier, some drivers, ride at a high speed so we can’t cross the road while other drivers don’t obey to zebra crossing,” said Rajabu Hussein a standard six student at Mapambano Primary School, located at Kinondoni District, in Dar es Salaam region.

He said; “though we are aware of how to cross the road on our own, sometimes we are obliged to ask for support from elders to help us crossing the road while holding our hands,”

“We ask the government and responsible authorities to assist us to have safer roads far from any fatalities,” Hussein explained.

The global scenario depicts that road crashes are the leading cause of death for children and young adults aged 5-29 years globally,” according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) Global Status Report on Road Safety 2018.

According to the Child Health Initiative activity and progress report 2016-2019, nearly 700 children die every day in road crashes, thousands more are seriously hurt.

It is reported that more than 2 million children miss out on education each year through death or injury in road traffic crashes. The world report shows that at least 80 percent of children walk to school using roads that contribute to millions of deaths.

Children walk for at least one kilometre to school on roads characterised by reckless drivers.

“Road crashes devastate families, impose huge costs on health systems, exacerbate poverty and reduce the life chances of children,”

Interviewed executive director for FIA Foundation Saul Billingsley said lack of leadership and political commitment to ensure children are protected while on the road, is one among the challenges facing many governments to make sure that children are safe when going to school.

He said it is unfortunate to see leaders and politicians are reluctant to react to the challenges that contribute to the increase of road traffic fatalities.

The director made the comment in an interview during the 3rd Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety which took place in February in Stockholm, Sweden.

Billingsley added that that is one among the main challenges which hindered smooth implementation of the decade of action for Road Safety.

“Still there are a lot of things to improve to ensure that proper infrastructures including safe crossings, side-walks and road signs are made available on the road to make it safer for children,” he explained.

“It is astonishing to see a lot of money is spent to build schools, hiring teachers and purchasing school infrastructures, while neglecting the safety of the children on the road,” Saul explained.

“We need to see that urgent and serious actions are put in place by governments to address this leading killer of young people,” the director insisted in an interview.

The actions we set in this 2030 manifesto will not only save lives, but will also contribute to a transformation of our streets which helps to reduce traffic, enable walking and cycling, and tackle air quality and climate change,” he said.

“More investment in the essential infrastructures both in schools and in the streets, to ensure child protection is highly encouraged to specifically end child deaths from road crashes,” Billingsley emphasized.

A survey conducted by the International Road Assessment Programme (IRAP) to nearly 250,000 kilometres of roads in 60 countries, found that more than 80 percent of roads on which pedestrians were present and traffic flowed at more than 40 km/h had no formal sidewalks.

The proportion was more than 90 percent in sub-Saharan Africa, 88 percent with cyclists and speeds of more than 40 kilometers an hour lacked separate bicycle facilities.

Children and adolescents are one of the most vulnerable groups to use the road. With so little protection provided it is little wonder that more than 3000 children have unfinished journeys every day.

Research by AMEND International, has shown that introducing sidewalks, speed reductions and traffic calmed crossings can reduce serious injuries by at least 25 percent at a cost of around US$ 20,000 per school.

The situation in Tanzania

In Tanzania, a report from the Police released in 2018 shows that, on average, two children die each month and four others are injured in road traffic.

 “Young children are impulsive, easily distracted, and have poor judgment of speed and distance. They are not good at assessing risk. This makes them vulnerable to being killed or injured on the road,” according to the report on the improvement of road safety in Tanzania Mainland prepared by the Land Transport Regulatory Authority (LATRA).

Statistics show that in 2013, 106 children under the age of 13 died in road crashes, and another 226 were injured.

The report states that, teaching children how to use road safety not only gives them practical skills, but also helps build positive, safe, caring attitudes that will serve them well throughout their lives.

“When teaching young children, the emphasis will be on building awareness and equipping them with road crossing skills, whereas older children should be taught how to assess and manage risks,” the report said.

A survey conducted by AMEND International in Tanzania, found that;

Dar es Salaam city, the commercial and busiest city across East Africa, is urbanizing at a staggering rate. The city is in the throes of a population explosion–currently just over 4 million, it is predicted to expand by 50 percent by 2025 according to the African Development Bank.

In such an environment, road traffic injury features all too prominently in the mosaic of public health threats, yet the immense burden it imposes on children and families is barely recognized.

Road safety has a direct link to children’s ability to get to school. Without safe places to cross roads and measures to reduce the speed of vehicles, many children arrive late.

Others may be killed or injured. Some miss exams or key parts of their education, and others never recover to be able to return to school.

For children in Dar es Salaam, the journey to school is dangerous, as they face a chaotic mix of fast moving vehicles and a lack of safe routes for pedestrians. Everyone knows someone who has been killed or injured by a vehicle.

In order to cross safely, children have been trained to ask for help to cross the road, and most do so. In some areas crossing patrols have been established.

Sometimes this is in response to a serious crash, and are organised by older children (aged 11 to 13) wearing reflective jackets. Yet most schools don’t have crossing patrols - only around 10 of the 400 state primary schools in Dar es Salaam have them, and these only cover the roads directly outside the schools.

“It is recommended that cities, road authorities and citizens examine the routes frequently traveled by children to attend school and for other purposes, identify needs, including changes that encourage active modes such as walking and cycling and incorporate safe system principles to eliminate risks along these routes.

“Our children are crying out for actions to protect them from the biggest threat to their lives, dangerous roads,” said Zoleka Mandela, ambassador for Child Health Initiative IHI.

“I implore our leaders to stop paying lip service and start investing energy and money into the simple solutions that can save our children,” she said.

The outcome of the 3rd Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety

In February this year, the World Ministers gathered in Stockholm, Sweden for a Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety organised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Swedish government. In collaboration with the International Centre for Journalists (ICFJ).

Themed; achieving global goals 2030; the conference which got attention of more than 1,000 delegates from 140 countries, deliberately adopted a joint ministerial declaration dubbed; The Stockholm Declaration.

The declaration among others, called upon member states and the international community to address the unacceptable burden of road traffic injury on children and young people as a priority, increasing political commitment, by ensuring the Global Strategy for Women’s children and adolescent’s health delivers necessary action on road safety.

The conference gave a valuable opportunity to stakeholders to put road safety in a global perspective and collaborate in the interests of reducing or eliminating road traffic fatalities and serious injuries.

The Academic Expert Group for the 3rd Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety, recommended that; cities, road authorities and citizens examine the routes frequently traveled by children to attend school and for other purposes, identify needs, including changes that encourage active modes such as safe system principles to eliminate risks along these routes.

The report said that; our children are the most valuable societal asset and we cannot look into the future without special consideration for their welfare. This principle underlies the development of the United Nations declaration of children’s rights.

Infrastructure design needs to accommodate the special needs of children, particularly the younger ones, who cannot be expected to understand and comply with non-intuitive rules or behaviours.

Routes travelled by children should use designs such as separated pedestrian walkways to limit risk exposure and include safe crosswalks where children are likely to feel the need to cross the road.

Schools have an important responsibility to analyse, propose and support implementation of safe routes to the schools.