Georgetown University

Zusha! Driving road deaths towards zero

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Project Summary

Road crashes kill 1.35 million people every year – more than HIV/AIDS, malaria, or TB. About 20 percent of these deaths are associated with bus crashes. Passengers literally face a “free rider” problem, in which no one wants to be the first to complain.Zusha!, Swahili for “protest”, is deceptively simple. Motivational stickers placed in the passenger cabins of buses empower riders to speak up and demand a safer journey, helping them help themselves. For 12 years, we’ve studied and scaled up Zusha! in East Africa, where we showed that the stickers could reduce accidents by between 25 and 50 percent.We target disempowered and marginalized people in the developing world who squeeze into over-crowded buses every day, but who lack a voice. We hope to save 50,000 lives each year on a sustained basis, and to give each of the 500 million people we reach control over their destinies.

Problem Statement

1.35 million people die in road accidents every year, and upwards of 50 million are injured.[3] A disproportionately large share of the burden is felt in the developing world.Road accidents don’t discriminate – all social and economic strata are at risk, from state presidents to street peddlers, from the ruling elite to the rural poor. Crashes kill more 5-29 year-olds than any other cause, robbing not just families, but whole societies, of a secure future.Road accidents are caused by resource constraints and by behavioral choices. Rich countries have resources, and have effectively modified behavior with high-quality infrastructure and well-enforced regulations.But poor countries face resource constraints in spades, and government failures mean road rules go unenforced. Furthermore, a specific market failure lies behind a large share or road deaths in the developing world – those associated with bus crashes. While psychological influences and bravado might cause drivers to behave irrationally, against their own self-interest, why do passengers let them get away with it? We argue that a coordination failure is at work: who wants to be the first to speak up, even though everyone might wish that somebody would?Waiting for poor countries to become rich and for their bureaucracies to function better does not acknowledge the urgency of the road safety challenge.We tackle head-on the acute market failure that exists inside the thousands of crowded buses that ferry the poor and vulnerable across towns and countries worldwide, with a dirt-cheap and miraculously effective intervention: Zusha!

Solution Overview

Zusha! encourages passengers to demand a safer ride, to “protest” directly to their drivers. The imperative of Zusha! is delivered by placing provocative but culturally sensitive sticker messages inside the passenger cabins of public buses. The stickers nudge riders to, for example, “Don’t just sit there while he drives dangerously. Speak-up, now!”, and are accompanied by either shocking or persuasive images, depending on the context. The stickers legitimize complaint, and meaningfully give passengers the right to be heard. Either they speak up, or drivers anticipate that they will: in any case, safety is improved.We will know we are making progress if (a) we can get stickers into buses, (b) they are retained in place, and (c) we see accident rates fall. This will require careful monitoring of which buses are exposed to the intervention, the provision of incentives to take part, and data on which buses are involved in accidents.Zusha! aims to reach half a billion passengers at 20 cents per passenger across eight countries by 2025. We will scale up in existing markets and enter new ones rapidly, with the objective of permanently reducing bus crashes by 25% of their 2020 levels.The target population is bus passengers in developing countries, who are predominantly poor and disempowered. We aim first to save their lives (and those of pedestrians and other road users who would otherwise be killed in bus crashes), and second to build a sense of agency and dignity in the face of exploitation and marginalization.

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Project Funders

  • National Bureau of Economic Research 2011 - 2012
  • USAID (Development Innovation Ventures) 2014 - 2018
  • Good Ventures (Give Well) 2017 - 2019

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