Regulation and technology as bases for building safer mobility
“Technology and information systems are the best tools to effectively regulate mobility. They are the state's eyes, they are the lighthouse of behaviour rules, and they are the highway of rights.”
Oscar David Gomez Pineda
Colombia is a country that, like its Latin American counterparts, had very slow economic, urban and scientific development until the 1960s, which was marked by political conflicts that stemmed into violence amongst the population. However, it was through a political and social agreement, in combination with the adoption of progressive policies, that an unusual growth in industrial sectors and services began to take place. This facilitated a dynamic that accelerated the metropolization of large urban centres. Prior to the ‘60s, the vast majority of the population lived scattered in rural areas (55%), but little by little, over a period of no more than 30 years, the proportion had completely changed and over 74% of the population lived in urban areas.
This phenomenon generated numerous challenges. One of the first to be addressed, in terms of physical, industrial and regulatory needs, was to prepare for a significantly larger number of people circulating freely in a smaller space without infringing on the rights of others.
So the Colombian State began a process to improve the road network through local governments in the main cities, financed mainly through taxes that were generated from using the infrastructure itself. They managed to build 57 exit ramps, viaducts, bridges and road access paths in Bogota, Medellin, Cali, Barranquilla, Bucaramanga and Cucuta between 1980 and 2000, investing more than US $2,900,000,000, which made a substantial improvement in mobility. However, due to project delays, costs and planning errors made when operations started, the solution to mobility and urbanization was seen as ineffective. Nevertheless, the country’s economic effort should still be recognized.
The country’s economic and social progress, together with the growing automotive industry worldwide, in addition to vehicle assembly plants being located in neighbouring countries, such as the United States, Mexico, Venezuela and Brazil, and even within the country itself (Renault and Mazda), generated an exponential growth in motorization, not to the same levels of other countries, but in a constant and progressive way.
In the 1990s, we saw a large population (15.6 million) in the big metropolitan areas with a lot of traffic, a greater number of vehicles circulating on the roads (approx. 8,291,000 vehicles) in an infrastructure that favoured an increase in metropolization and motorization (4.9 vehicles per 1,000 inhabitants). Consequently, a phenomenon that society was not ready for began to appear: road accidents (4,876 people died in 1999 due to traffic accidents).
Given the current reality, the State decided to constitutionalize mobility, using international policies as a guide, making it a fundamental right in the constitutional text that was adopted in 1991. It was explicitly stated that everyone had the right to physically move to exercise other inalienable rights. That is to say, it was taken as the basis that is a necessary condition for the very existence of Colombians, a transcendental step for later achievements that have shown Colombia as a world leader in constitutional evolution.
From this fruitful seed, the State began a long journey, seeking to build a legal device that would provide tools to society, people and the State to improve circulation, stop the increasing accident rate, and improve the levels of citizenship culture when driving, building an institution capable of responding to the effectiveness of the rules and serving as an instrument for the new challenges that mobility could pose for modernity. It was in 2002 that the Transit Code was issued, as a set of progressive rules when compared to the existing ones.
This code has established a strong legal basis that has allowed tools and measures to be implemented in the country, and its effectiveness has been proven in different countries around the world. The fact that the Code has not been shown to be ineffective has been key to this process. With the constitutional court, the government and congress being the ones who supported this framework through their actions, there are still many aspects that need to be regulated.
The following could be considered great milestones in regulating transit matters in Colombia, as contained in the Transit Code:
1. Recognizing motor vehicle driving as a dangerous activity rather than merely risky has been one of the greatest breakthroughs in regulatory matters, since it gives tools to the operational and regulatory control authorities to adopt measures that allow safeguarding the lives of traffic stakeholders.
2. Defining a strategy to praise good behaviour from traffic stakeholders. This strategy is based on four essential components: (i) The definition of clear behavioural rules for each type of actor to create the basis for mobility synchronization, (ii) the inclusion of a compulsory course in traffic and road safety in the academic structure of the country which provides students with early behavioural tools, (iii) the labour and academic training of drivers and driving instructors of motor vehicles, (iv) the definition of a penalty regime that would effectively persuade traffic stakeholders to not violate the behaviour rules.
However, it is worth stopping to reflect a bit in this regard, since this is perhaps one of the central levels of the problem of mobility, since the lack of effectiveness of such a strategy can generate a serious effect, such as an increase in accidents, mortality and morbidity.
If we judge by the current accident rates in Colombia (6,300 deaths in 2016), it could be concluded that this strategy has failed. Nevertheless, we must carefully analyze the matter to arrive at a conclusion that corresponds to reality.
Firstly, even though the call for educational institutions to adopt a course in mobility was initially ineffective, today, in spite of the existing teaching freedom, most elementary and high school institutions have implemented it. It has even evolved to help the working population and community develop safe road behaviours. This strategy needs to be given some time to be able to measure its effectiveness given that as it has been sociologically understood, cultural changes are progressive and sometimes imperceptible, but one day, they yield fruit.
Regarding the behavioural rules, it should be pointed out that the rules are quite specific in this matter and manage to describe clearly not only permitted behaviours, but also those that may involve a risk in mobility.
The area that has made the least progress is training or education for instructors and drivers, and it is here where we find the greatest break point. It could be because of the lack of commitment from the State, educational institutions and the political class that a maturity point has not been achieved in this respect. The fact is that people who carry out the dangerous activity of driving continue to proliferate in our country, without having been trained, educated or instructed to do so with the dedication, suitability and thoroughness that it deserves, with transit agencies and those who have not allowed the issuance of appropriate regulations being responsible for this, rather than society, schools or driving academies. Nowadays, with the creation of a new institution in charge of the administration of the road safety policy, departing from the opportunity that technology grants, this is the precise opportunity for the State to separate the teaching of driving from its certification, tighten conditions and requirements for the creation and operation of academies and driving schools, define the technological tools for virtual and electronic supervision of teaching and evaluation, and, in the process, increase the rigidity of the requirements for obtaining and maintaining a driver's license.
Perhaps the area that has made the most progress in our country and which, according to the author, is the cause of a continuously increasing growth of accident rates, is due to the application of the transit sanction system. However, this application has been essentially through the use of technology as a fundamental ally for citizens to convince themselves that when they commit a traffic offense, there is a high probability, not only of being detected, but of being penalized and for that said penalty to be applied. In this regard, it should be noted that the use of technical or technological means to detect traffic offenses has allowed several major cities in the country to not only persuade drivers to respect the behavioural rules, but has also effectively translated into reduced accident rates in those municipalities where it has been done in an appropriate and responsible manner, like in Medellin, Cali and Barranquilla, showing that the panopticon philosophy can have positive effects in solving problems related to mobility. In addition to this, it must be pointed out that the effectiveness of the penalty regime has been materialized in those cities that have technified and automated their sanctioning processes, allowing technology and information systems to issue penalties efficiently in terms of the resources and time required for the sanction to be imposed and issued to the traffic offender.
3. Defining a policy for information systems has been shown to be another essential key in managing the information available to the authorities for policy decision-making. This policy has allowed local and national technological platforms to be created, that have purified and consolidated information to achieve a certain validation process that improves the accuracy of the data. In addition to this, through the modernization of these systems, the local transit authorities have managed to reduce response times to the citizens’ requirements in terms of mobility, carried out through the execution of procedures, either online and in many cases through documentary dematerialization, which has closed the time gap between the users’ needs and the authorities’ response time, in addition to leaving little room for bribery.
While it is true that great progress has been made in creating regulations, it is clear that advancements have also been made regarding their effectiveness in those areas in which technology and information systems have been used as an ally in a suitable, technical and responsible manner, as tools implemented to improve circulation, reduce accidents, improve the citizens quality of life and persuade drivers to respect road behaviour rules.