Trends, Causes, and Costs of Road Traffic Accidents in Ethiopia

Scientific Essay, 2017

44 Pages




1. Introduction

2. Statement of the Problem

3. Objectives of the Essay
3.1 General Objective
3.2 Specific Objectives

4. Methodology

5. Conceptual and Theoretical Issues
5.1 Definition of Concepts
5.1.1 What is traffic?
5.1.2 What is Road Traffic Accident?
5.2 Causes of Road Traffic Accident
5.2.1 System theory to understand the causes
5.2.2 Risk Theory to Understand the Cause
5.2.3 Political ecology approach
5.2.4 Geographical approach

6. Road Traffic Accidents and Development

7. Socio-Economic Cost of Road Traffic Accident

8. Results and Discussion
8.1 Trends of Road Traffic Accident in Ethiopia
8.1.1 Trends in Accidents that Resulted in Death
8.1.2 Trend in Road Traffic Accidents that Resulted in Serious Injuries
8.1.3 Road Traffic Accidents that Resulted in Slight Injuries
8.1.4 Road Accidents that Resulted in Property Damage
8.1.5 Trends in Number of Persons Died Due to Road Traffic Accidents
8.1.6 Road Traffic Deaths by Sex
8.1.7 Number of Persons Seriously Injured by Sex
8.1.8 Road Traffic Accidents by Drivers Age
8.1.9 Road Traffic Accidents by Driving License
8.1.10 Age and Sex of Drivers Affected by Road Traffic Accident
8.1.11 Pedestrians Affected by Road Traffic Accidents
8.1.12 Passengers Affected by Road Traffic Accidents

9. Cause of Road Traffic Accident

10. Cost of Road Traffic Accident in Ethiopia

11. Number of Cars and Road Traffic Accidents in Regions

12. Conclusion

13. Recommendations

14. References


This paper assesses the trends, causes, and costs of road traffic accidents in Ethiopia. Despite efforts made by various stakeholders to reduce the massacre on Ethiopian roads, road traffic accidents have been a serious health development issue in the country. The essay used data on road traffic accidents in Ethiopia for the period 2006 –2015. Data were obtained from Federal Police Commission and Federal Road Authority and analyzed using descriptive statistics. The study found that at national level, on average road traffic injuries are increasing from year to year where Oromia regional state is the major contributor of total fatalities occurred in the past decade. On the other hand, Addis Ababa city administration is found as a major contributor of serious and slight injuries as well as property damages. The study showed that alike any developing countries, pedestrians and passengers are found to be the most vulnerable and hardest hit segment of road users. The finding also showed that male road users who are in their productive age group are disproportionately affected by road traffic injuries. Human errors (mainly drivers’ behavior and actions) are found as the major cause of road traffic accident in Ethiopia. So as to reduce fatalities and injuries on Ethiopian roads, the essay recommends that road safety policy and law enforcement; capacity building, education, and awareness creation; and cooperation and integration between and/or among all transport stakeholders should be the focus of Ethiopian government.

Key Words: Road traffic accidents, deaths, serious and slight injuries, property damage, economic costs, development

1. Introduction

Everybody travels from one place to another place either to work or to do business or to study or to enjoy using various transport options. Vehicle is one of the most widely used transport alternative and the major source of road traffic accidents in the world. Due to road traffic accidents, a greater part of road users could not return to home: farewell this world for once and all, spent long days, weeks, months, and even years in health centers and/or hospitals, and never be able to work or play as they used to do before. Particularly, nowadays, road traffic accident has been both public health and development issue and attracted the attention of governments, civil society organizations, and business and community leaders alike throughout the world. According to the World Health Organization (hereafter WHO) report, [1] every year more than 1.25 million people now die on the world’s road and about 50 million people are injured or disabled as a result of road traffic crashes. Principally, injured people have occupied 30 to 70 percent of orthopedic beds in developing countries hospitals. [2] If business as a usual continuous, according to WHO, “road traffic injuries are estimated to be the ninth leading cause of death across all age groups globally, and are predicted to be the seventh-leading contributor to the global burden of disease and injury by 2030.” [3]

While low and middle income countries account for 54% of world’s registered vehicles, every year about 90% of road traffic deaths occur in these countries showing that the countries bear an asymmetrical number of deaths corresponding to their level of motorization. Particularly, road traffic crashes are the worst in low and middle income countries which is responsible for about 5% loss of GDP, more than double of development assistance that they receive. [4] As far as the African Region is concerned, the continent has the highest road fatality rates of all the world’s regions [5] that is 26.6 per 100, 000 population relative to global rate of 17.5 per 100, 000 population. [6] While the Region owns only 2% of the world’s vehicles, it contributes 16% to the worldwide deaths. [7] The region will continue to have the highest road traffic death rates due to high rate of urbanization and motorization but lagging road infrastructural development as well as poor road and vehicles’ safety. [8]

In Ethiopia, the number of deaths due to traffic accidents is reported to be amongst the highest in the world. According to the WHO, in 2013 the road crash fatality rate in Ethiopia was 4984.3 deaths per 100,000 vehicles per year, compared to 574 across sub-Saharan African countries. [9] Besides, the number of people injured or killed in one crash in Ethiopia is about 30 times higher than that in the US. [10] In general, the scale and the severity of the problem are increasing from time to time and adversely affecting the economy of the country in general and the livelihood of individuals in particular. The purpose of this essay, therefore, is to examine the trends, causes, and economic costs of road traffic accidents in Ethiopia.

2. Statement of the Problem

In Ethiopia, road traffic accident has been one of the top ten causes of death. For example, in 2013, the number of people killed by road traffic accident was equivalent to those who died due to malarial (which is 9th cause of death) throughout the country. [11] Road traffic deaths and injuries has therefore been the key public health and development challenges of the country and will continue to adversely affect the livelihood of community and the economy of the country unless effective measures are taken to control the problem. [12]

Road traffic accidents not only adversely affect the livelihood of individuals but also their family members, as it can lead households into poverty via the enduring effects of the episodes: the costs of medical care, treatment and loss of family’s income generators. [13] Road traffic accidents have also a gigantic impact on national economy by consuming the already inadequate resources, damaging invaluable property, and killing and disabling the productive age group of the community. In general, the severity of the problem is becoming horrific shockingly and reaching a catastrophic level [14] showing that sufficient work has not been done to control and/or reduce alarming rate of the accident. This also implies that timely, accurate, and relevant data need to be collected and analyzed periodically so as to examine the trends, scope, and severity of the problem and come up with reasonable solution(s). The aim of this paper is thus to scrutinize the trends, causes, and economic implication of road traffic accidents in Ethiopia.

This essay tries to answer the following specific questions:

I. What is the trend of road traffic accidents (deaths, serious injuries, slight injuries, and property damage) at national and regional levels?
II. What are the underlying causes of road traffic accidents in Ethiopia?
III. What is cost of road traffic accidents in Ethiopia?

3. Objectives of the Essay

3.1 General Objective

The general objective of this essay is to analyze the general trends, causes, and economic cost of road traffic accident in Ethiopia.

3.2 Specific Objectives

The specific objectives of the essay are to:

- to examine the trends of road traffic accidents at national and regional levels
- to identify the underlying factors contributing to road traffic accident in Ethiopia
- to analyze the economic costs of the road traffic accident in Ethiopia

4. Methodology

Since the essay focuses on describing the trends and causes of road traffic accidents, a descriptive type of study is found appropriate and used accordingly. The paper is entirely based on the secondary data. That is, it is based on ten years (2006-2015) road traffic accidents data collected from Federal Police Commission. The data contain the occurrence of road traffic accidents, type of accident, and information of victims of the accidents. The data from nine regions and two City Administrations were presented using descriptive statistics such as average, graphs, charts, and tables; and analyzed and interpreted accordingly.

5. Conceptual and Theoretical Issues

5.1 Definition of Concepts

5.1.1 What is traffic?

Etymologically, according to wikipedia web site, the word “‘ traffic’ comes from the Old Italian verb ‘ trafficare’ and noun ‘ traffic’ and originally meant ‘trade’ (as it still does)”. [15] Various dictionaries [16] define traffic as the transportation of goods, coming and going of persons or goods by road, rail, air, etc. Slinn M., Matthews P. and Guest P. define traffic as “the movement of pedestrians and goods along a route.” From these definitions one can figure out that traffic is not restricted to ‘motorized road movement’ rather it includes the movement of pedestrians, cyclists, and motorized vehicles along a road. [17]

5.1.2 What is Road Traffic Accident?

A road traffic accident can be defined as “a fatal or non-fatal injury incurred as a result of a collision on a public road involving at least one moving vehicle.” [18] According to Safe Car Guide, road traffic accident can be defined as “an accident that occurs on a way or street open to public traffic, results in one or more persons being killed or injured, and at least one moving vehicle is involved. Therefore, road traffic accident is a collision between vehicles, between vehicles and pedestrians, between vehicles and animals, or between vehicles and fixed obstacles.”[19]

5.2 Causes of Road Traffic Accident

5.2.1 System theory to understand the causes

According to Muhlrad and Lassarre, system theory is based on man-environment adjustments and maladjustments.[20] According to this approach, road traffic accidents are usually caused by flaws in three major components of road safety such as the human (the behavior of man), the environment, and the vehicle (the means of transport). [21] The human component includes characteristic of road users such age, sex, education level, socio-economic status, attitudes and general traffic behavior: driving behavior, driving experience, driving style, risk compensation and risk driving (use of alcohol and drugs). The environment factor encompasses “the natural and the built environments as well as transport networks”. The means of transport component comprises of “the volume, composition, age, and quality of vehicles (technical condition and safety equipments) on the modes of transport.” [22] Deviations among any of these elements cause road accidents. [23] The systems approach is supported by a system of traffic laws controls, and regulations designed to ensure road users obey and follow the laws and regulations of traffic flow for sustaining road traffic safety. [24]

Figure 1: Interaction between and/or among components of road safety

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Source: Own construction from the literature

Figure 1 shown above is an example of system approach that could help us understand the manifold causes and prevention mechanisms of traffic accidents particularly in developing countries like Ethiopia. It is clear from both theoretical and empirical literature that traffic accidents are caused either by environmental factors (physical factors in the road system), the vehicle or behavior factors or interaction between each of them or all of them. [25] [26] [27] The existence of explicit laws and regulations and their enforcement practices is also critical in understanding the underlying causes of road traffic accident. Lack of road traffic laws and regulation or existence of smart laws and regulations but weak enforcement mechanisms and institutions can exacerbate road traffic accidents.

5.2.2 Risk Theory to Understand the Cause

According to some scholars, from the perspective of road traffic, risk is the function of four elements: the exposure - the amount of movement or travel within the system by different users or a given population density; the underlying probability of crash, given a particular exposure; the probability of injury, given a crash; and the outcome of injury. [28] [29] [30]

Rundmo and Iversen argue that majority of road users in poor countries neglect risk and exposed to high road traffic because of poverty. These countries show high risk acceptance culture due to the fact that they are influenced by other existing risks (poverty). For example, taxi driver may neglect the risk of high speed and only focus on the number times he/she drives to different locations and make more money. [31] And so, he/she would not have patience to give priority to pedestrians, cars, and other road users, to obedience traffic laws which may lead to road accident. Likewise, a pedestrian who is busy in searching for his daily livelihood may not give due attention to road movements and exposed to serious road accident. Risk is also associated with road users personality and attitudes where some people choose a high risk situation (called ‘sensation-seekers’). [32] That is why the number of males victims due to road accident is extremely higher than that of females because males risk taking behavior and attitude is higher than female. In general, risk can be considered as an ‘objective’ phenomenon which could be objectively measured or a socio-cultural or ‘subjective’ phenomenon which could be socially construction. [33] [34]

Adams and Wilde identified four categories of inspiring factors that determine the target level of accident risk: anticipated benefits of relatively risks behavior options: for example, gaining time by driving at high speeding when roads are of high-quality (‘risk compensation’) [35] ; the anticipated costs of relatively risks behavior options: for example, automobile maintenance costs and insurance surcharges for being liability in an accident [36] ; the likely advantages of comparatively harmless behavior options: for instance, the psychology of insurance reduction for accident (‘free driving’) [37] ; and the expected costs of relatively harmless behavior alternatives: for example, using an irritating/tight seatbelt. [38]

5.2.3 Political ecology approach

This approach mainly focuses on the availability of recourses and capacity of the national and local governments to implement road safety strategies. Shortage of resources and lack of power to follow up on control and enforcement of road traffic laws and regulations can de-motivate traffic police. [39] Particularly in poor countries like Ethiopia, due to resource (both human and non-human) constraints, government policy cannot influence all factors such as quality of road network, traffic engineering, the situation of vehicles, the behavior or attitudes of road users, etc that cause traffic accidents. Poor countries are also characterized by importation of second hand vehicles for private and/or public transport which almost considered as non road assets from the perspective of the exporter in the advanced nations. [40] Political ecology and health are closely linked in the sense that, “it provides a useful perspective for gaining an understanding of human-environment interaction to cause an increase or decrease of traffic accident at various geographical levels (central versus local) and in different areas in developing countries.” [41]

Government at different levels is responsible to ensure road safety. Given the scarcity of resource, authorities at various should give due attention to the transport sector (which is a life blood of the economic development) and effectively play its role in reducing road traffic accidents. For example, due to lack of resources or misuse of resources, in low income countries, poor road networks with no devoted area for pedestrians or non-motorized vehicles contribute to countless fatalities. [42] Governments at various levels can also reduce or control road traffic accidents by effectively enforcing traffic laws and regulations. Simple negligence in law enforcement can lead to horrifying accidents. For example, most African countries rely on unregulated taxis or buses, which frequently encourage speedy driving (‘a sluggish taxi driver makes less trips and thus less money’), use under-serviced vehicles and disobey existing traffic safety regulations [43] and cause devastating accident.

Authorities should be willing to focus on and consider the transport and road accident risk as a development problem (element of poverty reduction) in addition to a public health problem. This is evidently a question of economic development which requires high commitment of authorities in allocating the available recourses in optimal manner and using it efficiently so as eliminate road traffic accidents and poverty. As economy progresses, the need of government intervention and commitment to ensure road safety will increase due to the fact that developing countries will experience high level of motorization and so facing a higher road traffic accident risk. [44] All of these issues can be easily understood and examined via political ecology approach.

5.2.4 Geographical approach

This approach is primarily focused on the understanding of the causes of road traffic accidents based on time, land use, road element, size of the road, bending road, hilly area, topography, etc factors. Komba considers geographic scale as an important means in comprehending technological hazards, their distribution, and impacts. [45] Time (which is related to hours of the day, month, or season that people are more at risk of the traffic accident) is one of the key variables in understanding and analyzing the cause of road traffic accident. [46] For example, in developing countries it is found that road traffic accidents are occurred during day time due to high movement of road users and during weekend (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) due to high consumption of alcohol. [47] Land use pattern, types of road network, local business and activity pattern, rural – urban differences can also be very important in understanding underlying causes of road traffic accident. For instance, Astrom, Kent, and Jovin found that there are more accidents and lower degree of injury in urban areas while in rural areas there are lower accidents levels. [48]

6. Road Traffic Accidents and Development

Road traffic accidents can adversely affect economic development just like communicable disease such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria and thus should be considered as development issue. Some scholars argue that as income per capital increases and able to enhance the disposable income of households, the number of vehicles increases on the road of the countries that experience such events. For example, researches find that at very low levels of income road traffic fatalities per (100,000) person(s) augment with income (given that motorization goes up) up to a certain threshold, after which countries seem to be able to invest in safety measures (including safer cars) and possibly in measures that could bring behavioral changes to reduce traffic fatalities.[49] [50] [51] [52] Given poor road infrastructures (may be due to resource scarcity or misuse), lack of sound road safety regulations, and weak enforcement of road traffic laws, the increment in the number of vehicles (which is not accompanied by adequate improvements in infrastructure and road safety legislation) leads to mismatch between public expenditure required to accommodate increased number of vehicles and increase private expenditure on vehicles. This discrepancy in turn leads to high road traffic accidents which could be meticulously understood via the lens of development [53]

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 2: Relationship between Development and Traffic Accident

Source: Eshbaugh et al. (2012)

Figure 2 above shows the human and financial costs of traffic accidents in relation to a country’s level of economic development. The blue line symbolizes the loss of human life. The line shows that low income countries with fewer vehicles on the road (due to low purchasing power of people) experience a small number of traffic fatalities. However, traffic fatalities rapidly increase as countries reach middle income level where people are able to buy vehicles but governments are not able to improve road infrastructure and enforce traffic laws that accommodate the boomed number of vehicles. From then on, road traffic fatalities decline as countries approaching high income level and invest huge resources to improve infrastructure that could accommodate growing number of vehicles, make road rules embedded norms and effectively enforce them, reduce risks of road traffic accidents by avoiding unmaintained vehicles out of the operation. [54] Nevertheless, the reality on the ground tells us the opposite history where the number and rate of fatalities are the highest in low income courtiers compared to advanced courtiers. For example, Africa one of the poorest continent on the earth, owns only 2% of the world’s vehicles but contributes 16% to the worldwide fatality due to road traffic accident. [55] In general, the continent has the highest road fatality rates of all the world’s regions (that is 26.6 per 100, 000 population relative to global rate of 17.5 per 100, 000 population) due to fragile road infrastructural development and poor road and vehicles’ safety. [56]

In the Figure 2 above, red line symbolizes the loss of material resources and the effect of traffic accidents on economic development at various stages. It shows that albeit the death rate reduces at certain levels of development, the economic burden of road traffic accidents does not. That is, the adverse effect of traffic accidents in advance countries is huge on GDP. For example, according to WHO report in 2004, the annual cost of road traffic accidents was about 1 per cent of GDP in developing countries, 1.5 per cent in transitioning countries and 2 per cent in highly motorized developed countries. [57]

7. Socio-Economic Cost of Road Traffic Accident

The human suffering for victims and their families of road traffic–related injuries is incalculable. There are endless repercussions: families break up; high counseling costs for the bereaved relatives; no income for a family if a breadwinner is lost; and thousands of Dollars to care for injured and paralyzed people.

Moira Winslow, Chairman, Drive Alive, South Africa

The above quote clearly explains the socio-economic impact of road traffic accident at micro level. Some of the costs of road traffic accident (such as medical, damage, lost output, and administrative cost) can be directly measured in terms of their economic value (money) while others (such as pain, grief, and suffering due to the accident) can’t be directly valued due to their nature. [58] At individual and/or family level, road traffic affects the whole aspects (social, economical, and psychological) of victims and their families). The effect could be medical expenditure, properly damage, funeral expenses and a loss of an active household member as well as incalculable costs related to pain, grief, and suffering. Besides, additional post-accident costs related to insurance claims, legal issues and court awards create extra burden on individuals and families. [59] Time spent in following up these issues, taking care of the victim(s), funeral and mourning is also among the costs of road traffic accident. All of these costs have a strong and enduring repercussion for disposable income of the household. [60] In general, road traffic accidents drive many families into deeper poverty via the loss of main source of income (income earner), or high costs of extended medical care, or the additional burden of caring for a family member who is disabled due to a road traffic injury. [61] For example, Babtie found that 75% of all poor families who lost a member to road traffic death reported a decline in their standard of living and 61% reported that they had to borrow money to cover expenses following road traffic accident. [62] Likewise, The Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) reported that road accident in Asian countries are strikingly affecting more low income families and thus contribute to poverty problems. [63]


[1] See World Report on Road Traffic Injury Prevention, 2015

[2] See Dinesh (2002), Road Safety in Less-Motorized Environments: Future Concerns

[3] World Report on Road Traffic Injury Prevention, 2015:12

[4] Ibid

[5] See AFRO factsheet, 2013

[6] World Report on Road Traffic Injury Prevention, 2015

[7] AFRO factsheet, 2013

[8] World Report on Road Traffic Injury Prevention, 2015

[9] Ibid

[10] Persson (2008), Road traffic accidents in Ethiopia: Magnitude, causes and possible interventions

[11] The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2013), Fact sheet

[12] See Fesseha Hailu Mekonnen and Sileshi Teshager (2014), Road traffic accident: The neglected health problem in Amhara National Regional State

[13] Persson (2008), Road traffic accidents in Ethiopia: Magnitude, causes and possible interventions

[14] Fesseha Hailu Mekonnen and Sileshi Teshager , 2014

[15], retrieved on March 12, 2016

[16] Such as Merriam-Webster, Cambridge English dictionary,, the free online dictionary

[17] Slinn M., Guest P. and Matthews P. (2005), Traffic Engineering Design: Principles and Practice, pp 1

[18] World Health Organization (2015), Global status report on road safety, pp 1

[19] Safe Car Guide (2004), International Injury & Fatality Statistics, pp 4

[20] Muhlrad and Lassarre (2005), Systems approach to injury control

[21] Krug, Sharma, and Lozano (2000), The global burden of injuries

[22] Komba (2006), Risk Factors and Road Traffic Accidents in Tanzania: A Case Study of Kibaha District, pp 10

[23] Peden, M, Scurfield, R, Sleet, D, Mohan, D, Hyder, A, Jarawan, E & Mathers, C (2004), The world report on road traffic injury prevention, Accessed from world_report/en/ on March 10, 2016

[24] Komba, 2006

[25] Jørgensen and Abane (1999), A comparative study of urban traffic accidents in developing and developed countries: Empirical observations and problems from Trondheim (Norway) and Accra (Ghana)

[26] Krug, Sharma, and Lozano, 2000

[27] Komba, 2006

[28] MacKay (1983), Some features of road trauma in developing countries

[29] Dejoy (1989), The optimism bias and traffic accident risk perception

[30] Rumar (n.d.), Transport safety visions, targets and strategies

[31] Rundmo and Iversen (2004), Risk perception and driving behavior among adolescents in two Norwegian countries before and after traffic safety campaign

[32] Zuckerman (1979), Sensation seeking: beyond the optimal level of arousal

[33] Lupton (1999), Risk and Socio-cultural theory: New directions and perspectives

[34] Green (1995), Accidents and the Risk Society, In Bunton, R., Nettleton, S. & H. Burrows (Eds.)

[35] Adams (1994), Seat belt legislation: the evidence revisited

[36] Wilde (2002), Does risk homeostasis theory have implications for road safety?

[37] Rundmo and Iversen, 2004

[38] Wilde, 2002

[39] Komba, 2006

[40] Ibid

[41] Ibid, pp 24

[42] Eshbaugh, et al. (2012), Putting the brakes on road traffic fatalities in Africa

[43] Ibid

[44] Ibid

[45] Komba, 2006

[46] Ibid

[47] Odero, Garner, and Zwi, (1997), Road traffic injuries in the developing countries: a comprehensive review of epidemiological studies

[48] Astrom, Kent, and Jovin (2006), Signatures of Four Generations of Road Safety Planning in Nairobi City, Kenya

[49] Kopits and Cropper (2005), Traffic fatalities and economic growth, Accident Analysis and Prevention

[50] Anbarci, Escaleras and Register (2006), Traffic Fatalities and Public Sector Corruption

[51] Bishai, Quresh, James and Ghaffar (2006), National road casualties and economic development

[52] Paulozzi, Ryan, Espitia-Hardeman and Y. Xi (2207), Economic development’s effect on road transport-related mortality among different types of road users: a cross-sectional international study”

[53] Eshbaugh et al., 2012

[54] Ibid

[55] AFRO factsheet, 2013

[56] WHO, 2015

[57] WHO (2004), World report on road traffic injury prevention

[58] Mohd Faudzi Mohd Yusoff et al. (2013), The value of statistical life in fatal injury cases among drivers in Malaysia

[59] Ibid

[60] Margie and Adnan (2002), Road Traffic Injuries are a Global Public Health Problem

[61] WHO, 2015

[62] Babtie (2003), Guidelines for Estimating the Costs of Road Crashes in Developing Countries .

[63] Mohd Faudzi Mohd Yusoff et al., 2013

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Trends, Causes, and Costs of Road Traffic Accidents in Ethiopia
Ethiopian Civil Service University
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Amanuel Kussia (Author), 2017, Trends, Causes, and Costs of Road Traffic Accidents in Ethiopia, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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