Do Tough Traffic Rules Reduce Road Accidents?

The Kenyan Cabinet Secretary in charge of Transport recently announced a 22% decline in accidents on Kenyan roads in the first quarter of 2014 compared to the same period last year (resulting in 201 fewer deaths). Following the end of year holiday season uptick in road deaths (more people travel then; presumably more drink and drive as well) the government instituted strict traffic regulations, some of which have been struck down by the courts. But do these top-down rule changes work in reducing road accidents?

Probably not as well as we think, according to a new paper by Habyarimana and Jack:

This paper compares the relative impact of two road safety interventions in the Kenyan minibus or matatu sector: a top down set of regulatory requirements known as the Michuki Rules and a consumer empowerment intervention. We use very detailed insurance claims data on three classes of vehicles to implement a difference-in-difference estimation strategy to measure the impact of the Michuki Rules. Despite strong political leadership and dedicated resources, we find no statistically significant effect of the Michuki Rules on accident rates. In contrast, the consumer empowerment intervention that didn’t rely on third party enforcement has very large and significant effects on accident rates. Our intent-to-treat estimates suggest reductions in accident rates of at least 50%. Our analysis suggests that in institutionally weak environments, innovative consumer-driven solutions might provide an alternative solution to low quality service provision.

The Michuki Rules, which required retrofitting of vehicles with certain safety devices and other reforms as outlined in the net section, were widely believed to have led to an immediate and sustained improvement in the safety of Kenya’s roads. However despite this view, we find that most of the perceived effects were driven by short-run compliance costs imposed on vehicle owners and drivers, as opposed to their behavior, and that a month after the rules were introduced there was no discernible effect on insurance claims. In contrast, the consumer empowerment campaign we examine, which encouraged passengers to actively complain directly to their drivers when they felt unsafe, led to a remarkably large reduction in insurance claims of between a half and two-thirds.

Eng. Kamau and his team should take a look at this paper.

Also, the lesson here is not that we should not legislate against insanity on Kenya’s roads, just that those efforts should be complemented by a fire-alarm enforcement mechanism as opposed to using the Chai-Culture-crippled police patrol system.

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