A few days ago I wrote a post about road deaths in Turkey that I want to return to briefly. I’d like first of all to direct you towards a few observations that the post prompted from social anthropologist and author Jenny White on her Kamil Pasha blog. Her recollections of road travel between Turkish cities in the 1970s are striking, illuminating and—particularly in relation to what women drivers had to endure—disturbing:
People wouldn’t let them back in their lane if they passed. I once witnessed a woman driver (in another car) tortured like this for hours on the road between Antalya and Ankara. The cars would slow down so she would try to pass, then speed up so she couldn’t get back in lane. I was almost sick from tension, watching the near misses. Go to the Kamil Pasha blog
The second thing I want to do is follow up quickly on the relationship between road safety and political governance by summarising the results of some research that has been sent to me by Dr Teik Hua Law of the Road Safety Research Centre at University Putra Malaysia. He completed his doctoral research at Imperial College last year, submitting a thesis that dealt, among other things, with the effects of democracy on numbers of deaths due to motor vehicle crashes.
Dr Law uses two proxies for levels of democracy: corruption and political freedom. On the first of these, my unschooled assumption would have been that higher corruption would lead to a higher rate of deaths. And indeed, this is what the research points to on aggregate. Interestingly, though, in less-developed countries this pattern is reversed. Higher levels of corruption are associated with lower levels of crash-related deaths. In part this is down to economic effects: corruption reduces per capita income, which in turn suppresses the number of vehicles on the road and thus the number of accidents. But it’s not all down to these indirect effects. According to Dr Law, the direct effect of corruption on road safety regulation and enforcement is to reduce deaths in less-developed countries.
There are further counter-intuitive results when it comes to political freedom, as Dr Law’s research finds that higher levels of political rights actually lead to higher numbers of road deaths. Dr Law suggests two possible explanations for this. First, democratic governments tend to develop their highway systems more slowly than other regimes, and their road systems are in slightly worse condition. Second, the economic effects of political freedom are the opposite of those for corruption: increased political freedom correlates with positive economic growth, which leads to increased vehicle ownership and this in turn contributes to rising road deaths.
[UPDATE: Click the button below to go to the comments section, where I’ve added some further detail concerning the relationship between democracy and road infrastructure.]