By: Lykke E. Andersen*
According to official statistics from the National Statistical Institute, the number of people injured in traffic accidents in Bolivia has more than tripled between 2000 and 2013 (the latest year for which data is available). Figure 1 shows the number of non-fatal traffic injuries rising from 5,356 in 2000 to 17,204 in 2013. To that we should add the number of traffic fatalities which increased from 681 deaths in 2000 to 1,848 deaths in the year 2013. Three of every four injuries in 2013 took place in the departments of La Paz, Santa Cruz and Cochabamba.
Figure 1: Non-fatal traffic injuries in Bolivia, 2000-2013, by Department
By now, the main cause of death and disability among Bolivian men is Road Injuries. Figure 2 shows the structure of the disease burden for men of all ages in Bolivia in 2013 in terms of Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALYs) lost due to different causes. The principal causes of loss of DALYs in Bolivia used to be Lower Respiratory Infections (LRI) and Diarrhea, as they killed young children and thus caused massive losses in Life Years. However, those causes have recently been overtaken by Road Injuries, which now account for 7% of the total disease burden for Bolivian men. Three quarters of those harmed by traffic accidents are pedestrians (1).
Figure 2: Bolivia’s Disease Burden, 2013
The high burden of traffic injuries in Bolivia is clearly not due to an abundance of roads and cars. The density of roads in Bolivia is only about 8 km per 100 km2 of territory, which is less than half the average density in Latin America and less than a third of the world average of 28 km/100 km2 (2). Car ownership is also still very low at only 68 cars per 1000 persons (see Figure 3 below). Car ownership is more than 10 times higher in the United States, but there traffic injuries only account for 3% of the disease burden.
Figure 3: Motor vehicles per 1000 people, 2014
Rather, it seems a case of rapid increases in wealth and car ownership without a corresponding increase in education. Drivers in Bolivia demonstrate an outrageous disregard for traffic lights and pedestrians, and I have never seen anybody leave their car behind, even after an evening of steady drinking. Pedestrians are not exemplary, either. They cross streets anywhere, at any time, and with a blatant disregard for their own safety. Even the presence of a police man on every street corner does not seem to improve the behavior of neither drivers nor pedestrians.
Most people do not wear seat belts, either. Indeed, according to the video below, 6 out of 10 drivers in El Alto don’t even know how to put on their seat belt!
* The author is a Senior Researcher at INESAD, Ph.D. in Economics, firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Fundación INESAD.
(1) See the blog “Changing Wealth – Changing Health” for an analysis of the changes in Bolvia’s disease burden between 1990 and 2013.
(2) Nina, 0. and Arduz, M. (2016) V- Vías camineras. En: Andersen, L. E., Branisa, B. and Canelas, S. eds. El ABC del desarrollo en Bolivia. Fundación INESAD: La Paz- Bolivia, pp. 243-252.