Global Road Safety: What One Country is Doing to Make its Roads Safer

Worldwide, 3,400 people die on roads [everyday]. [1] The United Nations (U.N) has developed a Global Plan for the “Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020.” In this plan the U.N. highlights focus areas to make roads safer. Safe roads is more than just keeping road users safe, it has far reaching implications to economies and commerce. For low- and middle-income countries safer roads means an opportunity to grow economies and keep families out of debt.

Director Nascimento of the Federal Highway Police (PRF), Brazil is a member of the International Associations of Chiefs of Police (IACP) and is on the Highway Safety Committee (HSC). As a middle-income country, Brazil understands the value of safe roads from an economic and human perspective. Over the last several years PRF has worked to develop educational and enforcement campaigns.

In a recent interview with Maria Alice Nascimento, Director, PRF, Ms. Nascimento answers some questions about the work she is doing to improve road safety.

IACP: What road safety challenges is Brazil facing?

Ms. Nascimento: Brazil has been experiencing a great growth of road infrastructure which results in better roads and increased road network. Moreover, considering the increase of financing and payment, there was an increase of 148% in the country’s car fleet. The PRF also noticed that drivers were speeding on the country’s roads. The combination of more vehicles and increased speeds created the perfect scenario of collisions.

It is also important to mention that the quality of the vehicles in Brazil is still low, even in active and passive safety systems, which affects the severity and the amount of traffic injuries.

Policies and road safety programs in Brazil also face a major challenge, since it is a shared responsibility among the federal government, states, and municipalities. Thus, it remains an enormous challenge to better organize and coordinate joint efforts to promote safer traffic throughout the country, in a comprehensive and efficient way.

This division of powers and independence of the federal entities also leads to a lack of standardization and quality in the training of drivers, resulting in less prepared and less conscious drivers.

IACP: What public awareness/educational efforts have you implemented?

Ms. Nascimento: One awareness initiative, PRF conducts is entitled “Road Movies.” This educational campaign focuses on school students and drivers and invites them to watch movies that focus on the main causes of traffic collisions and aggravating factors of collisions such as illegal overtaking, speeding, impaired driving, and non-use of seat belts or child seats. The films are played on trucks adapted for this purpose.

PRF also organizes the A School Transit Festival – FETRAN, which is a traffic educational project that uses educational activities with the theme of traffic safety in everyday school life. In FETRAN, students and teachers create plays, models, poetry, dance, music, novels, and other communication methods with a specific traffic safety focus to promote educational and cultural diversity. The created products are presented in the Thematic Fair for Traffic and Traffic Festival with the aim of integrating PRF, schools, and society.

Our State Directors organize lectures for schools, unions and professional drivers’ associations that reinforce the need for compliance with the laws, obedience to traffic signs, observing speed limits, and the importance of safe traffic for everyone who travels by the country roads.

It is important to mention the Health Command, where drivers take simple exams to assess their general health and are also informed about safety procedures and the importance of safe driving. This is done with the support of hospitals to make sure the diagnosis and suggestions are professional.

Finally, PRF wanted to develop an impactful public awareness campaign that demonstrated the serious effects of collisions and the direct connection it has to driver behavior. The PRF had a driver who had committed a driving under the influence of alcohol offence participate in a ride along with the PRF rescue care team. The ride along was recorded and showed the reaction of the individual as they observed the after effects of a collision scene. The awareness campaign resonated with the road user community by putting a “human face” on the collision and helped highlight the role that driver behavior plays in road safety.

IACP: What road safety enforcement activities have you implemented?

Ms. Nascimento: The main function of the Federal Highway Police in promoting road safety is the “Integrated Operation Rodovida”, which is a major effort involving the Federal Government, states, and municipalities to reduce collisions and traffic fatalities. This is a simultaneous and joint action at pre-determined locations and times to increase the presence and availability of government agencies in providing road safety and fluidity on the highways. This collaborative governmental effort involves; the Secretariat of Communications for the President, the Ministries of Justice, Cities, Transport, Health, and state and municipal entities; which utilize statistical studies to direct these preventative crash prevention, educational campaigns, and other road safety efforts.

We also used statistical surveys conducted by the Federal Highway Police itself, pointing the sections considered more nationally critical to direct the integrated and simultaneous actions. This study considers the locations where the highest serious crash rates are recorded, those that result in death or any serious injury. The PRF actions, however, are not restricted to places where there will be a joint effort, they happen throughout the federal highways of the Country focusing on the illegal overtaking, seeking to prevent collisions.

Moreover, to increase the effectiveness of inspections PRF has invested in training and capacity building of the police to conduct patrols on motorcycles. Motorcycles provide police agility to conduct enforcement efforts while patrolling in heavy traffic. Motorcycle policing is most effective in metropolitan areas where traffic is heavy and having this type of police presence helps in the prevention of traffic violations and crimes, many of which are conducted with the use of motorcycles.

IACP: What has the public’s response been to your educational and enforcement activities?

Ms. Nascimento: As a result of our combined efforts, the Federal Highway Police has managed to drastically reduce the number of collisions, deaths, and injuries on federal highways (highways whose supervision and policing are the responsibility of the PRF) since 2011.

In statistical surveys conducted by PRF, driver’s behavior is the main cause of collisions on federal highways (speeding, illegal overtaking, impaired driving, etc.). The PRF believes that the large reduction of collisions on the federal highways is a result of the increased educational activities that have increased drivers and the public’s awareness about traffic safety, and that through the educational activities both drivers and the public have modified their behavior when in traffic.

IACP: What challenges have you faced?

Ms. Nascimento: One challenge the PRF has faced in its traffic safety efforts is the lack of officers available to conduct enforcement efforts. Currently the PRF has approximately 10,000 police throughout the country, with a highway network of more than 70,000 kilometers. In enumerating the number of police and the size of the road network, it is evident that the number of officers is not adequate to properly patrol the highway system. In addition, the number of vehicles in the country is growing daily, which is reflected in the number of vehicles the on federal highways. With an increase in vehicles and drivers there is an increased need to have more officers on the road to conduct inspections.

IACP: What advice would you give law enforcement leaders around the world about implementing educational and enforcement programs focused on road safety?

Ms. Nascimento: I would emphasize the importance of strengthening the management capacity, aimed to establish a more technical operational planning culture with the development of preventive and proactive actions. It is also important to mention the need to develop social-oriented work in road safety, which is, focusing on society, its safety and well-being. Finally, I believe it is important to invest in technology and procedures for the collection of reliable statistical data in order to obtain an accurate diagnosis of landscape found, which will enable the adoption of appropriate strategies to achieve the best results possible.
1. United Nations Road Safety Collaboration, http://www.who.int/roadsafety/en/, viewed May 2, 2016.

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