How safe are road users in ASEAN countries?

The ASEAN region faces the challenge of improving safety for road users, with most road deaths involving the most common mode of transport: 2- or 3-wheeler vehicles

Katerina Francisco

Published: 11:40 AM April 27, 2017

Updated: 11:40 AM April 27, 2017

PUBLIC TRANSPORT. In the Philippines, tricycles are one of the most common modes of transportation. Photo by Joel Leporada/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Traveling around Southeast Asia can be an adventure in itself: one has the choice to ride trains, buses, tuk-tuks, tricycles, and kalesas.  

But the transport infrastructure in the 10 member countries that make up the Association of Southeast Asian (ASEAN) nations still leave much to be desired. With a population of around 628 million, each ASEAN country has the added challenge of making sure that tourists and locals alike get to travel safely around the region.

Globally, around 1.25 million die each year due to road crashes – a global health issue that experts say is both predictable and preventable. Half of those killed on the roads are pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists. (READ: Road deaths in PH: Most are motorcycle riders, pedestrians

This presents a risk to many ASEAN countries, since majority of the vehicles are motorized two- and 3-wheelers, which are better suited for congested cities, according to the 2016 ASEAN Regional Road Safety Strategy report. 

"The pattern of use of these vehicles – often as family transport – makes it even more imperative that the road safety strategy should focus on addressing the vulnerability of users to road trauma," the report added.

In the ASEAN region, road trauma is generally higher in middle income countries. Among the 10 member countries, only Brunei and Singapore registered the lowest fatality rates per 100,000 population." frameborder="0" allowtransparency="true" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" webkitallowfullscreen="webkitallowfullscreen" mozallowfullscreen="mozallowfullscreen" oallowfullscreen="oallowfullscreen" msallowfullscreen="msallowfullscreen" width="100%" height="412">

According to the ASEAN road safety strategy report, these are the challenges of each member country in keeping road users safe:


Brunei has the shortest road network in the Southeast Asian region, with 3,127 kilometers (km) of road length. Its motorization rate is 712 motor vehicles per 1,000 population.


Developing a comprehensive national road accident database

Providing infrastructure and facilities for pedestrians and cyclists

Strengthening enforcement of rules against mobile phone use while driving


Cambodia has a road network of 53,711 km, but only 11% are paved – one of the lowest averages in ASEAN.


Improving the safety of two- or 3- wheeler drivers and passengers

Strengthening enforcement of laws on speeding, drunk driving, and use of motorcycle helmets

Establishing road safety auditing of existing and new infrastructure 


Indonesia is the largest and most populous country in Southeast Asia. It has a road network of 503,604 km, of which 89.7% are paved.

According to the traffic index of Dutch company TomTom, Indonesia ranks 3rd in the world when it comes to the longevity of congestion. The index said that drivers' travel time in the capital Jakarta are increased by 58% during peak hours.

Meanwhile, users on traffic app Waze gave traffic in Indonesia a "miserable" rating of 2.58 out of 10.


Implementing regulations for vehicle standards, child restraints, and blood alcohol level limits

Developing policies to address motorcycle safety

Enforcing speed limit rules and seatbelt use

ROAD USERS. Cars and tuk-tuk ride past a row of ASEAN member countries' flags in the Laos capital of Vientiane on July 23, 2016. Photo by Hoang Dinh Nam/AFP

Laos has a road network of 56,331 km, but only 17.76% are paved.


Improving access to post-care and emergency services

Enhancing enforcement of the national drink driving and seatbelt laws

Implementing a demerit point system for drivers


Malaysia has a road network of 144,303 km, with 80.9% paved. 

Its capital city, Kuala Lumpur, was the newest addition to TomTom's traffic index, ranking 54th out of 189 cities worldwide. Driving in the morning increases approximately 33 minutes, and the evening rush hour extends travel time.


Increasing wearing rate of seat belts and safety helmets

Effective enforcement of laws regulating road user behavior

Improving planning, design, construction, and maintenance of roads

Creating a road safety culture within the community, and implementing road safety education in schools 


Myanmar has a road network of 151,298 km.


Enacting laws for child restraints in cars and banning mobile phone use while driving

Effective enforcement of laws regulating road user behavior

Improving safety levels of vehicles

Strengthening policies to ensure the level of drivers' skills


The Philippines has a road network of about 270,000 km, with 86% of national roads paved. 

In Waze's Driver Satisfaction Index 2016, the Philippines got a score of 1.75 – the second worst score among 38 countries. 

The Japanese International Cooperation Agency said the Philippines will lose P6 billion every day by 2030 if worsening traffic congestions are not resolved.


Creating a road safety body to oversee road safety initiatives

Strengthening vehicle inspection and road worthiness

Improving collection of road crash data

Improving driver's licensing system

Providing facilities for pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists

Improving accessibility of ambulances for those injured post-crash 

WALKING IN SINGAPORE. A couple walks along the promenade as a haze can be seen visible over the the Esplanade theatre (background) in Singapore on September 15, 2014. Photo by Rosland Rahman/AFP

Singapore has the 2nd smallest population in the Southeast Asia region, but its economy ranks number one. It has 3,496 km of roads, and nearly 100% are paved. 

Traffic is not so bad in Singapore, with only a 53% increase in travel time in the morning or 31 minutes. Evening peak hours add 36 minutes to traveling time according to TomTom's data.


Finding ways to protect vulnerable road users (pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists)

Consolidating national vehicle regulations

Incorporating in its road strategy targets for reducing fatalities


Thailand has a road network of 180,053 km. Its capital city, Bangkok, also ranks among the top cities in Asia with bad traffic jams. A traffic index by Inrix places the Thai capital at top spot among 36 other cities in Asia.


Introducing and conduct safety auditing of new roads and existing infrastructure

Enhancing enforcement of laws regulating road user behavior

Improving emergency training for medical responders in post-crash care


Vietnam has a road network of 280,000 km (including local roads).


Improving access to ambulances for post-crash care

Enhancing enforcement of laws on drink driving and wearing motorcycle helmets

Implementing a demerit system to influence driver behavior

The ASEAN region faces the challenge of improving the safety of road users. 

The road safety strategy report also noted that people in ASEAN countries often migrate from the rural to urban areas, and usually lack experience with motorized vehicles and understanding of road rules. – with reports from Timothy Gucilatar/