How do we rely on enforcement in a setting where we don’t enforce traffic laws in an equitable way?

Adonia Luga

The most effective way to ensure safe driving is to develop self-explaining, self-enforcing roads. Such roads incorporate geometric elements that discourage high speeds, such as narrow lanes, narrow shoulders, chicanes, and sharp turning radii. In this way, street designers and engineers can design roads that require little additional enforcement. The first consideration when supporting children’s mobility should be: How well does the road encourage safe behaviour?

Correcting for street design that does not follow self-explaining and self-enforcing principles may require more traditional safety enforcement. Enforcement can help increase road users’ awareness and reduce the frequency of traffic violations. Enforcement efforts should target motor vehicle driving behaviour, rather than children and other vulnerable road users who are usually on the receiving end of traffic violence.

Road safety enforcement by police may be culturally inappropriate in certain neighborhoods. Where infractions are enforced more frequently, and there is a risk of a lack of trust of law enforcement, and a lack of acceptance of policing as a road safety solution. Thus, it is important to consider enforcement as secondary and complementary to engineering, and to consider implementing community-based enforcement.


1. Prioritize self-enforcing street designs

Roads designed to limit vehicle speeds are safer and require less traditional enforcement.

2. Slow vehicles around people (especially children)

Calibrate speed limits and enforcement practices to the urban context and prioritise public safety over vehicle speeds.

3. Enforce safety standards

Enforce vehicle safety standards, helmet laws, and safe operating practices.

4. Prevent parked cars from impeding cyclists and pedestrians

Manage vehicle parking to ensure that parked vehicles do not obstruct pedestrian rights of way and force pedestrians into the roadway.

5. Share information between enforcement and operations agencies

Establish durable and consistent lines of communication between enforcement agencies and municipal agencies responsible for transport operations.

Best practices

Keeping vehicle speeds low is a crucial element of pedestrian safety. Pedestrians hit by high-velocity vehicles—especially those travelling above 30 km/h—have a much higher chance of death than those hit by vehicles travelling at lower speeds. At speeds below 30 km/h, it is much easier for drivers to see their surrounding and detect any potential conflicts with pedestrians, cyclists, or other motor vehicles.

With robust speed limit regulations in place, high-visibility speed limit signs should be posted, particularly in areas near schools. Enforcement efforts should be deployed where they can have the greatest impact, such as areas near schools and locations of frequent traffic crashes. Speed enforcement strategies are likely to be effective when sustained over a long period of time, clearly communicated to the public, and implemented with automated systems to track violations and penalties.

Speed enforcement officer in Addis Ababa. (Source: BIGRS/GDCI)

Case study: Speed control in Ghana

In Ghana, when these speed enforcement strategies were implemented on the Accra–Kumasi highway, they reduced crashes by 35 percent and fatalities by 55 percent. Data collected over a two-year period indicated that the “speed factor” alone accounted for more than 50 percent of all road traffic crashes. In this initiative, engineering was also an important component, with traffic calming measures such as rumble strips serving as a major contributor to speed reduction.

Case study: Speed control in South Korea

South Korea’s experience demonstrates what can be achieved if speed control programmes are evidence-based and taken to scale. Between 1988 and 2012, the country has managed to achieve a remarkable 95 per cent reduction in road traffic fatalities for children under the age of 14. This is as a result of introducing and investing in programmes to improve school zone streets, improving the regulation and safe operation of school buses, supporting civil society organizations in advocating for road safety, providing public education, and improving laws.

Enforcement of helmet laws for motorcycle users is critical to their effectiveness. Children who are legally permitted to ride as passengers should also be subject to the country’s laws on helmet use.

The safety and accessibility features of motor vehicles designated to transport children are often unregulated. Similarly, school bus operators are not consistently certified or subject to regular re-evaluation or retraining. In locales where legislation addresses these concerns, enforcement of the regulations is critical to ensuring that all students, including students with disabilities and those from low-income families, have safe access to educational facilities and activities. Inaccessible transport and schools are a major barrier keeping children with disabilities from obtaining an education, leading to long-term economic penalties. It is important to identify ways to improve accessibility on paratransit services.

Enforcement efforts to improve children’s mobility should include regulating parking to ensure that vehicles parked on footpaths, across driveways, or in crosswalks are ticketed and clamped or towed. As with speed control, parking enforcement is most effective when paired with physical measures, such as bollards that prevent vehicles from parking on footpaths or cycle tracks.

Case study: Reclaiming pedestrian space in Vietnamese cities

Vietnamese cities such as Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi have taken aggressive measures to prevent unauthorised parking of cars and two-wheelers on walkways. Parking zones are designated on the pavements with painting in order to keep footpaths as clear as possible for pedestrians. Enforcement measures include increased fines and towing of offending vehicles.

Speed camera systems may be installed through a partnership between a municipality and a service provider. These systems measure vehicle speeds, identify license plates, and capture images of vehicles that are breaking speed limits or violating traffic signals. These automated systems eliminate the need for enforcement personnel to staff intersections, and easily operate 24 hours a day. Speed cameras fall into the following categories:

  • Fixed speed camera: Speed cameras mounted at fixed positions along a roadway. 
  • Combined speed and red light violation camera: The camera can detect running of red lights and speeding at the same time. 
  • Mobile speed cameras: Vehicles fitted with speed camera equipment are parked on the side of the road to monitor the speed of passing traffic.
  • Semi-fixed speed cameras: A camera that is installed on a road, but can be moved to a different location if needed.
  • Portable speed cameras: Handheld or tripod-mounted devices or set up on a tripod on the side of the road by police officers. 
  • Average speed over distance (ASOD): An ASOD system uses a camera at the start of a stretch of road and another at an “end point” along the same road. The system uses the number plate of a vehicle as its trigger, and calculates the average speed between the start and end of the measured stretch.