Learning the Rules of the Road at NG-Albania

Learning the Rules of the Road at NG-Albania

Jun 14, 2019

First-time visitors to the Nehemiah Gateway campus at Buçimas may be surprised by the well-labeled and signed, paved segments of street between the buildings that house NG operations. Why would a mostly pedestrian area surrounded by walls need a roundabout, lane dividers, crosswalks, traffic signs, and even traffic lights, all slightly smaller than in real life?

This is Nehemiah Gateway Albania’s traffic safety program, and every year up to 600 children from 12 Pogradec-area schools visit to take part in traffic safety training. Under the careful eye of NG staff, children of different ages practice walking and riding bicycles safely on the road—with no cars around. They learn how to handle themselves safely in situations that they could encounter on real streets, in a setting that is safe and positive.

The training ground was built in 2014 in response to a real need for traffic safety education for Albanian children. Albania is a country with a relatively short history of vehicle ownership. Under communism, private car ownership was illegal, and there were only 5,000 cars in the entire country, which has a population of 3 million people. After the fall of communism in 1991, many embraced car ownership as a sign of freedom. According to the World Bank, there are about 125 cars per thousand people in Albania today. This is well below Germany (572 cars per 1000 people) or the United States (797 cars per 1000 people) but substantially above the Communist era.

Vehicle safety education has not kept up with growth in car ownership and an expanding road network. Albania has a high traffic fatality rate, with 2.04% of all deaths from car accidents. This number is accompanied by a rising rate of non-fatal accidents—just shy of 70 accidents per 100,000 people per year. Over 35% of Albania traffic deaths are pedestrians and cyclists, and children are particularly vulnerable. In Pogradec, many schools are located on or near high-traffic roads, which makes it critical for children to know how to safely share the road with drivers.

Nehemiah Gateway’s Buçimas traffic practice circuit was designed based on one in Weilheim-Schongau, Germany. An NG donor in Weilheim connected Arnold Geiger with Werner Hoyer of the Weilheim Police Department. Mr. Hoyer has taught thousands of children in the Weilheim area the rules of the road. He adopted the Buçimas traffic safety project, finding donors to support construction, personally donating the yellow practice bikes we use today, and training Albanian staff on use of the facility. There is a small plaque in the roundabout bearing his name to honor his contribution.

Says Sam Geiger, Vice President of NG-Albania, “In Pogradec and surrounding areas, many houses are connected directly to the main roads, so pedestrians and playing children are always close to fast-driving cars. The traffic safety program is how we hope to raise children’s awareness of this risk—so that we will have safer drivers someday, when they are old enough to drive.”