Non-motorised vehicles such as cycle-rickshaws, animal carts, and handcarts have traditionally been an essential means of transporting people and goods in cities and towns in the early stages of economic development, particularly in Asia and Africa. In recent years, however, they have come under an increasing threat that has led to their almost complete disappearance in some major cities in Asia. In Penang, Malaysia cycle-rickshaws are declining in numbers, in contrast to the growth in the motorcycle fleet in the country. It is a similar picture in Surabaya, Indonesia. These trends reflect a gradual move away from rickshaws towards motorcycle based vehicles. This situation is compounded by many governments appearing to be actively discriminating against non-motorised vehicles with policies designed to discourage their use because of congestion and social issues.
Accident statistics, with respect to cycle-rickshaws, are scarce and unreliable (underreporting is a big problem), but R. Gallagher, in The Cycle-rickshaws of Bangladesh (1992), estimates that in 1986 and 1987, cycle-rickshaws accounted for about 10 percent of road deaths in Dhaka (based on newspaper reports). The lack of comprehensive accident data systems, coupled with the underreporting of many accidents, prevents detailed analysis from being carried out and thus the most suitable remedial measures cannot necessarily be implemented, be they engineering, enforcement, or education.
Non-motorised vehicles are usually moving faster than pedestrians and slower than motorised vehicles. Like for cyclists and motorcycles, non-motorised vehicles are left to manage in the general traffic stream alongside larger and faster motor vehicles. Usually they take up more space as they are wider, and they are a little more clumsy in their ability to manoeuvre, being mechanical or because of carrying huge loads. As for cyclists they sometimes behave like motorists, sometimes like pedestrians. There is not always a licence system for non-motorised traffic, still the riders must know traffic rules, how to behave and avoid conflicts in traffic with high speed vehicles and motor-cycles. Education might improve this. The UK's Department for International Development (DFID) awarded TRL Ltd (Transport Research Laboratory) a research grant to conduct a project on promoting road safety in developing countries through community programmes. The project purpose is "to provide proven guidelines for effective and sustainable community education programmes for improving the safety of vulnerable road users". Conspicuity and being perceived accurately by other road users are extremely important factors for non-motorised vehicles.
The most serious conflict a non-motorised vehicle can experience is being hit by a fast moving vehicle, and the higher the speed the stronger impact and risk of injury. Most severe and fatal accidents happen either at road junctions, or at crossings between a street and a cycle track. This is particularly the case in urban areas. Many conflicts happen because the driver of the motor vehicle mis-read the situation, underestimate the speed, not following the traffic rules or in some cases, does not see the non-motorised vehicle.
Conflict areas between the different road users in the road environment need to be addressed as for bicyclist and motorcycles. Facilities along the roads segregating the high and low speed vehicles, either visually or by physical barriers can be helpful. Where non-motorised vehicles have been banned from using certain roads, it is important that an alternative network exist. The potential for conflicts between non-motorised and motor vehicles is greatest at intersections, where segregation of traffic is not always possible or suitable. All intersections should preferably be marked and signposted in order to provide clear instructions and directions to motor vehicle drivers and non-motorised vehicles users. The Urban safety management: Guidelines for developing countries published by DFID provides tools to implement urban safety management techniques. The speed management manual focuses specifically on speed.
The enforcement of traffic regulations governing all road users and vehicles is essential also for the safety of non-motorised vehicles. Furthermore, it is important that non-motorised vehicles are well maintained and use lights and reflectors to be seen at night.
As for all road users, a good pre-hospital care and emergency system is important in case of a road crash to shorten the crucial time between the occurrence of the crash to the arrival of rescue teams or at a health clinic, thereby reducing the risk of fatal or serious injuries.