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Driving road safety in Costa Rica

Author: UNB Alumni

Posted on Feb 11, 2022

Category: Inspiring Stories , UNB Fredericton , Engineering


Javier Zamora-Rojas (MScE’11) came to the University of New Brunswick from Costa Rica in 2009 to complete a master’s degree in the globally recognized transportation engineering program. He came for the program, but loved the whole experience.

“It was a thrill to come from the tropics to the snow. I loved it, and I loved the city and the university and the people. It was wonderful to study under Eric Hildebrand and others in the department focused on road safety.”  

After completing an undergraduate degree in engineering in Costa Rica, Javier began his professional career doing road safety audits and developed a passion for that field. “Humans have a basic need to move from one place to another, but this brings unfortunate and unnecessary injuries and deaths each year from traffic accidents. I wanted to contribute to reducing this worldwide health problem.”

In fact, the World Health Organization reports that there are around 1.3 million deaths annually due to road traffic crashes worldwide, and 93% of the world's fatalities on the roads occur in low- and middle-income countries, even though these countries have approximately 60% of the world's vehicles.

“Costa Rica has a lot of motorcycles and a very poor road safety culture,” Javier says. “There is more aggressive driving here, and though it takes time to change, I’m very interested in being a part of making our roads safer.”

After specializing in road safety at UNB, he returned home and joined Lanamme at the Universidad de Costa Rica, a highly-equipped national testing lab and transportation research centre. A road safety unit was created and Javier and his colleagues began training municipalities and government agencies to help them improve road safety on new road construction and road maintenance projects. He’s been doing impressive research, development of national standards and manuals, training and audits to make Costa Rican roads safer ever since.

“The road engineering work is very technical, but it’s also interdisciplinary and collaborative with others. There’s a comprehensive approach in road safety – it’s very much the human side of engineering, which I love. I work with our national government and municipalities to do full evaluations of the national road network with high-tech equipment. We keep databases and transfer that knowledge to government. We have a high level of credibility in Central America for the work we do and that’s very exciting.”

Javier is also embracing the concept of the ‘complete street’ – where streets are designed to be safe, convenient and comfortable for every user, regardless of transportation mode, physical ability or age. He talked about the concept recently in a guest lecture for UNB’s Transportation Seminar Series. “It’s a big approach, taking into consideration the whole street from wall to wall. It’s a shift toward a new kind of urban mobility, and although it generally takes big budgets to accomplish, there are smaller ways to begin implementing it bits at a time.”

Javier says that his work takes patience, because changing culture and mentality is slow. “We’re always trying to do better evaluations and reporting so we can continually have an impact on decisions being made at high levels. It’s a long process, but when you see change happen, its so rewarding to know you’ve done something that’s making our world better. Every day is interesting in this work – I interact with engineers and contractors and officials from all levels, which is very engaging. It feels great to make a positive impact.”