Chaos often reigns on the streets of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s capital. Minivans, cars and motorcycles careen along half-finished roads without markings, sidewalks or traffic lights. Pedestrians walk single-file within reach of speeding vehicles. Groups of children in matching school uniforms hold hands as they linger at the road’s edge. They scan for breaks in traffic and dart across before the bell rings for the start of class. Every day, this journey puts their lives at risk.
Some of Dar es Salaam’s highest-risk schools see more than 12 students injured or killed in road crashes every year. The city’s skyrocketing population, increasing car ownership and haphazard development have combined to create perilous commutes for school children. While road safety is a global problem ‒ more than 1.35 million people die in crashes every year and the total is only getting higher ‒ children in sub-Saharan Africa are more than twice as likely to die in a road crash than kids in other parts of the world. In cities’ poor neighbourhoods, the odds are even worse.
SARSAI is a finalist for the WRI Ross Prize for Cities.
Amend, a global road safety nonprofit, is working to save children’s lives by changing the roads they traverse. The School Areas Road Safety Assessments and Improvements (SARSAI) program targets schools with the highest rates of student injuries and creates corridors of improved safety between children’s homes and their schools.
“Road safety does so much more to a city than just keep people safe,” said Ayikai Poswayo, SARSAI program director at Amend. “It determines how a city operates, how the people within a city feel.”
Corridors of Safety
Communities and local authorities are active participants throughout SARSAI’s process. They help Amend gather data on traffic and pedestrian counts, speed surveys and measurements by explaining their specific challenges and dangerous hotspots. Once identified, Amend implements measures with local road authorities. They install speed bumps, footpaths, traffic calming measures and other infrastructure on nearby roads. Sometimes they even create new entrances to schools to help kids avoid especially dangerous areas. Then they work with the students to teach them safer pedestrian behaviour.
These simple solutions ‒ which cost only about $25,000 per school ‒ are already reshaping Dar es Salaam. SARSAI has helped more than 38,000 students there to date, as well as many more family members, who worry less about their children’s walks to school, and neighbors, who benefit from safer pedestrian infrastructure.
One motorcycle taxi driver said street alterations have changed the way he drives. “Before, we used to fear that we would hit them [students],” Yasini Tahwa told WRI. “Now when we reach the zebra crossing, we wait for them to cross first before we pass.”
Big Impact with Limited Resources
Data is at the heart of what makes SARSAI effective. To achieve maximum impact with limited resources, Amend’s engineers and statisticians first survey a city for the most high-risk school areas. Then they build out from there, selecting physical interventions that best fit the area.
Poswayo and her team carried out a peer-reviewed study of SARSAI with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2015 and 2016. Compared to a control group, the schools with SARSAI experienced 26 percent fewer traffic injuries, while vehicle speeds in school zones dropped as much as 60 percent. It is the first peer-reviewed method of its kind proven to reduce road traffic injuries and death in the region.
“As a parent, now I am very happy,” said Didace Kamugisha, a PTA secretary at the Mikumi Primary School. “This has not only helped the students but also residents who use the road.”