“ASIRT Lite,” a new summer travel series, will debut on Thursday to give future travelers a feel for the sights, sounds and smells of three different destinations, but keeping in mind the importance of each’s road safety culture.
“When you travel to any country, learning about the road safety in that country is an intricate part of what you need to know,” said Rochelle Sobel, founder of the Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT). Her son, Aron, died in a bus crash in Turkey in 1995. He was a twenty five year old medical student completing his final rotation by volunteering in a hospital abroad.
“That’s the message that we’re trying to give, because so many people do research on everything else, but they leave out road safety,” Ms. Sobel said. “Just like you want to know what restaurant to go to and what sites to be sure to see, you really have to know the road safety of the country. It’s a part of being an informed traveler.”
Traveling on many of the world’s roads can be deadly. Traffic crashes — not plane travel, terrorism, crime, or infectious disease — have long been the biggest killer of healthy Americans abroad, and that doesn’t seem to be changing. Each year some 1.35 million people die in road crashes and up to 50 million more are seriously injured, according to the World Health Organization. Many of those tragedies are in low- and middle-income countries, where increasingly, Americans are traveling.
Sessions about Hawaii, Uganda and Kenya will focus on the lighter side of each — the food, music, natural beauty of the land, as well as serious issues. Presenters will offer “an insider’s view, a unique perspective”of their respective region or country, Ms. Sobel said.
July 23, 7:30 pm EST: Hawaii – journalist and author Debra Bokur will introduce her newly released first novel, The Fire Thief, a murder mystery set in Hawaii. The work will set the stage for a discussion about Hawaiian culture and food, as well as some of the state’s pressing issues. Ms. Bokur, who travels as the Global Researcher and Writer for ASIRT and as a monthly columnist for Global Traveler Magazine, will be joined by James Walker McDaniel, a hospitality professional and musician.
The presentation is a natural outgrowth of Ms. Bokur’s book, and will weave together many aspects of Hawaiian life, “to go beyond just looking at the scenic beauty,” Ms. Sobel said, “to teach and to inform at the same time.”
July 30, 7:30 pm EST: Uganda – Kimberly Harrington, a United States Foreign Service official who just returned from Uganda, will detail her family’s experience of the country’s culture, people and landscape, and specific challenges citizens face. Her most recent post was in the U.S. Embassy in Kampala. Previous assignments were in Bogota, Jerusalem, Manila, Cairo, Tripoli and at the Pentagon.
“She has worked on road safety in every country where she’s been posted,” Ms. Sobel said. “We met her when we were doing road safety work in Egypt. She is also going to be talking about the political realities, and about what it’s like to have a family in Uganda.”
August 6, 7:30 pm EST: Kenya – Dr. David Silverstein, a prominent cardiologist who served as the chief cardiothoracic physician for the government of Kenya, and Channa Commanday, a nurse practitioner, Americans who have made Kenya their home, will be joined by Bright Owaya, executive director of ASIRT-Kenya and a road safety advocate since 1997 when she was involved in a road crash. They will talk about the scenery, daily life, and trials of living in Kenya.
None of the speakers in the three sessions is “going to be presenting a glorious picture,” Ms. Sobel said. “They’re going to be explaining the realities and intricacies and cultural complexities and challenges” of each region. The idea is to encourage and inspire future travelers, but to help them do so safely.
People often assume roads and driving are the same everywhere, but there are often significant differences. For example, in Hawaii, fierce, sudden storms, and flash floods can make driving “terrifying when caught up in it,” Ms. Sobel noted. And the famous Hana Highway, also called Highway 360, has 620 curves and 59 bridges. Many turns are hairpin, and while most of the roadway is two-lane, lanes are so narrow in some sections, they are suitable only for one vehicle, she added.
Typical conditions in Uganda include narrow and old roads, mechanically poor vehicles, poorly trained drivers, and irresponsible driving, like dangerous attempts to pass other drivers.
In Kenya, poorly maintained roads and weak markings and road signs, including a lack of speed limit signs, are common. To compound those issues, Ms. Sobel noted, there is “little enforcement and sense that laws must be adhered to.”
Tackling the road safety public health crisis should be easier than Covid-19, because known interventions exist. “We know what we should be doing, and yet somehow we’re not doing it,” Ms. Sobel said. But the new series does not dwell on the down side of global travel. “We don’t visit a country to see all the negatives. We want people to enjoy the beauty, but know what they’re getting into, know how to protect themselves,” she added.
Ms. Sobel said ASIRT provides the same message it always does in its outreach, “but we give it more subtly and integrated. ‘A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down,’” she said, referring to the famous Mary Poppins song. But the bottom line is, “you need to know about the roads of the country before you go.”
There will be time for listeners to ask questions at the end of each session.