Issue - December 2009

December 2009


In this edition An analysis of the right to vote or not, as citizens option in a democratic society; traffic road safety problem in Cochabamba city Petra Vissers tells us about some initiatives to educate people; Justin Gouin interviews Cochabamba’s Red de Mujeres Lesbianas and Bisexuales de Bolivia founder

December 2009

Cochabamba’s education of traffic rules and regulations

Although Bolivia´s road safety is getting better the last couple of years, there still remains a lot to be improved. Not only the drivers need to take more responsibility, the municipality has to improve the infrastructure and their control on traffic rules and regulations.

Petra Vissers
Projects Abroad Volunteer
Ultrecht - Netherlands

Just before I arrived in Cochabamba, I finally got my drivers license. It took me almost a year and a lot of struggle to get it but eventually I was given my ¨license to freedom¨. From that moment, I was able to go everywhere I wanted—much to my father’s chagrin when I commandeered the family vehicle. Unfortunately, I was only able to enjoy this new-found liberty for a week.

Before leaving The Netherlands, my parents explicitly forbid me to drive; as they put it, “not unless I had a death wish.” They could not have been more right, I would not last a minute in Cochabamba´s traffic.

At the crash site alone, more than 1000 people die each year in accidents on Bolivia´s roads each year according to World Health Organization estimates. In addition, more than 13.000 people are injured in non-fatal traffic accidents, and many later die from their injuries—though these numbers are unavailable. This means that nearly 40 people are either injured or die every day on Bolivia´s roads, supporting the WHO´s assertion that road injuries are an epidemic and among the top ten causes of death worldwide.

Unlike the downward trend in high-income countries of the world, the number of road traffic injuries in middle- and low-income countries is still increasing. Cochabamba’s traffic clearly exemplifies these numbers, on which there 5 seems to be an absolute lack of traffic rules and regulations. Where the excessive use of the horn originates, but it seems to have become an accepted rule that the driver who honks first has the right of way, or at least so he thinks. When this rule fails, it is simply a matter of brute force, resulting, as in one instance I witnessed, in the destruction of the side mirrors on two mircros. Of course, the drivers appeared less concerned about the damage: they simply shouted at each other and then carried on.

In Europe, a minor accident of that sort would have been a big deal. The police would have been called, insurance agencies contacted, and the fault for the collision based on eyewitness evidence of who, in fact, had been on the wrong side of the traffic laws. For the driver at fault, the mistake would result in a fine, and his insurance company would have to pay for the damages to the other driver’s vehicle. While not everyone likes this (do not even get me started on how annoying it is to pay a fine for being on the phone while driving or for bicycling in off limits areas), it does have the effect of making the city streets a safer place. With the threat of fines and high insurance premiums looming, people respect the traffic lights and laws, reducing the number of buses that bump into one another.

In Cochabamba, the public transport system undoubtedly adds another layer of hazard to these already aggressive driving tendencies. Although the system has its obvious advantages, like allowing a person to get on and off wherever he wants, these advantages translate into things like micros and trufis stopping in front of other cars at any moment without warning. No only does this cause disruption in traffic, but it also means that other drivers will make dangerous maneuvers to avoid using their brakes: they squeeze their cars between others, or overtake these stopped buses at dangerous and cluttered intersections. While the fact that transit workers are their own bosses, which makes them try to pick up every possible passenger, a fact that can benefit passengers, it also means that an enormous micro can cut you off at any moment.

Also, the lack of anticipation between the drivers results in chaotic and poorly organized traffic, especially in the busiest parts of the city where there almost always seems to be traffic jams. And without laws requiring seat belts or child restraints, most accidents will end worse than they have to. Add to this the facts that there are no real zebra-crossings or bicycle tracks, and that there are obstacles like stray dogs crossing the streets everywhere, and all of a sudden the allegation that you need a ¨death wish¨ to drive in Cochabamba does not seem to be an overstatement.

Things are getting better though. Since 2007, a year after the government implemented a national road safety strategy, the number of road traffic deaths in the country is finally declining. The government decided to implement this strategy as a result of the ever increasing numbers of road fatalities in the nineties and even called this matter ¨a matter of public health¨ that needs to be addressed. Part of the strategy has been developing prevention and education campaigns, give information and promote the rights and duties of passengers but also the liability of transport operators. With a peak in 2006, more the 1400 fatalities, since 2007 the numbers are slowly getting better every year.

When one pays attention, advertising for the campaign can be seen everywhere in Cochabamba. Not only the mentioned stickers that tell you to ask for security instead of speed, also the posters that ask drivers not to honk so much; ¨do not pollute the city with noise¨, or the ones that ask you to stand up for elderly people in buses.

A substantial part of the city’s strategic plan is about road security and improving the infrastructure and they set some ambitious goals for themselves. If the city keeps working at its current speed, for example, it is going to take the city 43 years to reach their goal of the number of asphalted roads of good quality that it hopes for. Despite this, it needs to be said that Cochabamba is considered an important infrastructural point for the whole country, and is apparently one of the most accessible cities of Bolivia.

For citizens with disabilities, however, it is a different matter. If traffic is such a challenge for the average road user, it must be even harder for people with any form of a disability. ¨Nobody ever thought about the disabled when designing the infrastructure of the city¨, say Bolivia Marañon, head of the department of disabled people in Cochabamba. That is why three years ago the project ¨Educación Vial¨, road education, funded by the municipality, started. Bolivia explains why this project is so needed. ¨We saw that a lot of people in the streets with disabilities were searching for a project like this. The main goal is to educate the drivers about the difficulties people with disabilities have in everyday traffic and to teach them how they can help overcome these difficulties. The project wants to help every person with any disability to walk freely in the streets. There are a lot of obstacles and especially the drivers do not pay attention to this population. When they want to use the public transport they often have to wait a long time at the corner, the same thing happens when they want to cross the street¨.

The second part of this project is the education of traffic rules and regulations of the population without disabilities. Because, according to Bolivia Marañon, if they would be respected it would already make a big difference for all the vulnerable road users, not just those with disabilities. ¨We teach people for example to use seat belts and helmets, but also to get off the car from the right instead of the left if you have parked on the right side of the road. People with a disability give these lessons, not only because they have a bigger impact on drivers but also because it creates a source of work¨. Unfortunately, the project is not working as good as expected, but they keep going. ¨If there are ten drivers and only one changes his attitude it is already a change¨, Bolivia says.

With so many cars and only a limited amount of space, there will probably always be road accidents. But there are many things to be done to make them less severe and less frequent. The projects that the municipality already started needs to be expanded and more work needs to be done to sensitize drivers and other road users about their responsibility. Not only that, the police and the municipality need to do their part to make the roads and the infrastructure suitable for the demands of modern times. During my drivers lessons they told me to always wear my seat belt and always respect the speed limit. But the most important thing she always told me, is to anticipate on other drivers and be humble every once in a while.

Red de Mujeres: Towards Sexuality Without Boundaries

On December 10, 1948, the General Assembly of the United Nations passed resolution 217 A (III), better known as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, affirming that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” Article 2 of the declaration unambiguously affirms that without distinction of any kind every human being is entitled to the rights and freedoms contained therein.

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