Did child restraint laws globally converge? Explaining 40 years of policy diffusion

Author(s): José Ignacio Nazif-Munoz

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In 2004, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Bank (WB), along with many other important national and international actors, all part of the United Nations Road Safety Collaboration network, launched and implemented a global campaign to promote several road safety measures in order to tackle the root causes of road crashes and avoid their consequences (WHO 2004). In this campaign one of the most highlighted measures, given its efficacy in reducing both fatality and morbidity rates, was the promotion of Child Restraint Laws (ChRL). In the 29 years from 1975, the year in which Belgium and Denmark enacted the first two ChRL in the world, up until the launching of this global campaign in 2004, only 47 countries had enacted this measure. However, in the subsequent 9 years from 2004 to 2013, an increase of 61% of ChRL across the world was observed, with 37 more countries adopting ChRL policies. The role of the WHO and the WB’s global campaign, or any other regional or national factor, in this impressive policy adoption pattern across the world remains unknown.

The objective of this study is to determine what factors have been associated with the global adoption of mandatory ChRL since 1975.

In order to determine what factors explained the global adoption of mandatory ChRL, Weibull models were analyzed. To carry out this analysis, 170 countries were considered and the time risk corresponded to 5146 observations for the period 1957 - 2013. The dependent variable was first time to adopt a ChRL. Independent variables representing global factors were: the World Health Organization (WHO) and World Bank’s (WB) road safety global campaign; the Geneva Convention on Road Traffic; and the UN’s 1958 Vehicle Agreement. Independent variables representing regional factors were: the creation of the European Transport Safety Council and being a Commonwealth country. Independent variables representing national factors were: Population; GDP per capita; Log of political violence; Existence of road safety NGOs; and Existence of road safety agencies. Urbanization served as a control variable. To examine regional dynamics Weibull models for Africa, Asia, Europe and North America, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Commonwealth were also carried out.

Empirical estimates from full Weibull models suggest that two global factors and two national factors are significantly associated with the adoption of this measure. The global factors explaining adoption are the WHO and WB’s road safety global campaign implemented after 2004 (p <.01), and the UN’s 1958 Vehicle Agreement (p <.001). National factors were GDP (p <.01) and existence of road safety agencies (p<.0.05). The time parameter ρ for the full Weibull model was 1.4255 (p<.001) suggesting that the likelihood of ChRL adoption increased over the observed period of time, confirming that the diffusion of this policy was effective across the world. Regional analysis showed that the UN’s Convention on Road Traffic was significant in Asia, the creation of the European Transport Safety Council was significant in Europe and North America, and the global campaign in was in Africa. In Commonwealth and European and North American countries the Existence of Road Safety Agencies was also positively associated with ChRL adoption.

Results of the world models suggest that the WHO and WB’s global road safety campaign was effective in disseminating ChRL after 2004. Furthermore, regions such as Asia, and Europe and North America were early adopters since specific regional and national characteristics anticipated the introduction of this policy before 2004. In this particular case the creation of the European Transport Safety Council was fundamental in promoting ChRL.

In order to introduce conditions to more rapidly diffuse road safety measures across lagging regions the maintenance of global efforts and the creation of road safety regional organizations should be encouraged. Lastly, the case of ChRL convergence illustrates how mechanisms of global and regional diffusion need to be analytically differentiated in order better to assess the process of policy diffusion.