20,000 children safer on Guatemalan roads

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20,000 children from 59 schools across the southern area of rural Guatemala are making safer journeys to school thanks to road infrastructure investments and road safety education with the support of the FIA Foundation.

The project has made roads around schools safer by installing road signs for drivers and developing educational materials about safety for school-age children. The signs identified school zones and reinforced drivers’ awareness of the lower speed limit. The project was run by the Automovil Club De Guatemala (ACG), in partnership with Asociación de Azucareros de Guatemala (ASAZGUA), a local NGO, as a part of the FIA Road Safety Grant programme, funded by the FIA Foundation.

Road safety is a significant challenge in Guatemala. The WHO reported a trend of increasing road traffic related fatalities, with 19 deaths per 100,000 people in 2015, although the government does not have a formal reporting system. Rural roads are particularly dangerous; 80% are narrow dirt tracks surrounded by vegetation that restricts driver visibility. The majority of children walk to school, and are forced to share the roads with vehicles of varying sizes. There is a very low authority presence on the roads, which has a direct impact on both the enforcement of road safety laws, and the recording of road crashes when they happen.

The impact of the signs on road speeds was immediate – a 26.8% reduction in average speed around the project schools was recorded compared to schools without signs. The signs were purpose built for the project, designed to be visible, easy to maintain and durable, and were developed through an ACG partnership with 3M Guatemala. The installation of the signs were overseen by community leaders, who also agreed to maintain the signs if the government failed to do so.

The project schools were chosen based on a number of factors, including known child deaths and injuries, risk of road crashes, road conditions around the school, and community involvement. Speaking on the project, Miguel Ortiz, a community leader from Aldea Filipinas said: “We are grateful to see that people care about us, we are a bit far away, but not lost.” Cruz Coro Flores, representative for a parents’ organization in Aldea Botón Blanco, commented: “Before, everything seemed abandoned, but the project has taken us and our needs into account, and we are also seeing a better community spirit.”

Three sets of educational materials were produced; two for school children between the ages of 6 to 10 and 10 to 14, while the third was developed as an aide for teachers. The pupil materials focused on basic tips for safe behaviour using roads, and the teachers’ resource highlighted ways to teach and discuss road safety with children.

One of the principal challenges of the project was to identify how many road traffic related injuries and fatalities were happening in the region, as cultural factors inhibit the sharing of news about death and injuries amongst family members to schools and local authorities. Through the course of the project, teachers reported families’ reluctance to share that their children have been killed or injured on the roads, due to cultural perceptions of bad luck.

The project has also fostered a growing community movement to work towards better road safety for children. Speaking about the impact of the project, Mr. Juan Carlos Botran, Mobility and Road Safety Director of the ACG said: “We are very proud to have been part of this important project that gives thousands of young children the opportunity to have a life, without the burden of a preventable injury. We are grateful with the FIA Foundation, ASAZGUA, 3M and all of the sugar producers that made this project possible, and hope to be able to maintain this partnership in order to develop new projects

Perhaps one of the most significant contributions of the project is that the rural communities that the project targeted believe that road accident is not a matter of fate, or something to be ashamed of, but something that can be prevented and something the whole community needs to rally around.”