politics : culture : economics

Driving in Turkey: an update

In Turkey on June 16, 2010 at 8:05 am

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.]

  1. First, democratic governments tend to develop their highway systems more slowly than other regimes
    Did he had Nazism and Fascistic Italy in mind? As far as I can see, West European countries which are considered the most democratic (incl. Nordic) tend to plan and maintain their infrastructure accordingly incl. highway systems.

  2. Hans,

    Many thanks for the response. This infrastructure/democracy relationship is one of a few in Dr Law’s research that raise an eyebrow. It transpires that his claim on this point is drawn from an article by Prof Albert Saiz of Wharton, entitled ‘Dictatorships and highways’. I’ve been in touch with Prof Saiz and he has clarified that his results are conditional on levels of development. The particular focus of his research is on developing countries. From the introduction to his paper:

    “Consider the case of highway provision in Central America. Costa Rica is by far the richest country in that region. With a modern welfare state and a dynamic democracy, it is widely regarded as one of the most developed countries in Latin America. Why is it that Costa Rica’s roads are so bad compared to those of its neighbors? The most common explanation by officials is that budget pressures associated with redistribution make it difficult to assign resources to infrastructures. Are officials trying to justify their relatively poor performance or are there explanations rooted in the political economy of highway provision?

    “This paper sheds some light on these questions. I use data on quality of roads for a sample of developing countries and find that, indeed, in autocratic countries the share of paved roads in poor condition tends to be smaller. This finding holds after controlling for several variables that differ between democracies and dictatorial regimes. … Democratic countries tend to be much richer than dictatorial nations, and the country sample for this exercise is tilted toward less developed nations. I account for the hypothetical existence of heterogeneous treatment effects by stratifying the sample into four income quartiles. Similar qualitative results arise within income quartiles. The paper also shows that changes to a more democratic type of government are associated with slower growth of the highway system. In all cases, the association between democracy and transportation infrastructure is robust.”

  3. Taking Costa Rica, which is developping very quickly the last 10 year, as an example sounds not very scientifical to me. Does he understands the impact of nature on the infrastructure. Is nature überhaubt a parameter?

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