Northwestern Events Calendar


NUTC Seminar: "The History of Road Safety in Industrialized Countries (and the Future of Road Safety in Developing Countries)" - Kavi Bhalla, UChicago


When: Thursday, March 8, 2018
4:00 PM - 5:00 PM Central

Where: Chambers Hall, Lower Level, 600 Foster St, Evanston, IL 60208 map it

Audience: Faculty/Staff - Student - Public - Post Docs/Docs - Graduate Students

Cost: Free - no registration required

Contact: Joan Pinnell   847.491.7287

Group: Northwestern University Transportation Center

Category: Academic


Northwestern University Transportation Center presents:

"The History of Road Safety in Industrialized Countries (and the Future of Road Safety in Developing Countries)"

Kavi Bhalla, PhD
University of Chicago



The long-run trends in road traffic deaths in industrialized countries show a remarkably consistent pattern of rising traffic deaths until the 1960s followed by a decline until present day. Previous studies have attributed these trends to economic development (i.e. a Kuznets Curve). These studies hypothesize that as countries become richer they initially experience rising injuries with increasing income but they eventually reach a certain level of economic development after which they begin to invest in safety programs and reduce their traffic mortality rates. This logic of economic determinism creates the impression that many low-income countries may be too poor to invest in safety now.

We use a time-series cross sectional dataset of traffic deaths in 20 OECD countries from 1955-2015 to show that traffic deaths in these countries began to decline in 1970 even after controlling for income effects. We believe that the persistence of these time effects in the models after controlling for income is credible evidence of a transition to a road safety policy era in OECD countries. In fact, the 1960s was a period of paradigmatic change in which the prevailing view that accidents were caused by drivers behaving badly (“the nut behind the wheel”) changed to a more balanced understanding of how road users, vehicles, road infrastructure, and post-crash care contribute to safety. Thus, we argue that the key lesson for developing countries is that they need to stop focusing solely on interventions aimed at changing behaviors of road users and take a systematic approach to addressing the main risk factors.



Kavi Bhalla, PhD, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Public Health Sciences of the Biological Sciences Division at the University of Chicago, and Affiliated Faculty at the Harris School of Public Policy. His research aims to develop transport systems that are safe, sustainable and equitable, with a central focus on road safety in low- and middle-income countries. His recent work has focused on the development of analytical tools for improving estimates of the incidence of injuries in information-poor settings using available data sources. Kavi co-led the injury expert group of the 2010 Global Burden of Disease Project. He is formally trained as a mechanical engineer and his PhD (Cornell, 2001) thesis research focused on the mechanics of material failure, which he later applied to the study of injury biomechanics and vehicle crashworthiness. He is broadly interested in the design of products, environments, and systems that are safe and have positive health impacts.

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