FOCUS ON ROAD SAFETY: The opportunity is now to reverse the trend of deaths and injuries

Posted by: on Jan 14, 2019 | No Comments

The Global Status Report on Road Safety, released in December 2018, leaves no doubt: the number of road traffic deaths and injuries remains unacceptably high, engendering many situations of suffering, poverty and exclusion across the world.

There is no fatality. Solutions to improve road safety and save lives are known; political will is urgently needed to put them in place!

The report depicts alarming trends

Up to 50 million people are injured or disabled every year, often with life-altering and long-lasting effects. Compared to the previous 2015 report, deaths from road traffic crashes have increased from 1.25 to 1.35 million a year: while there is an increase in absolute numbers, the rate of deaths relative to the size of the world’s population has stabilized. Even if the problem is not worsening in comparative terms, it is clear that we are way very far from achieving the Sustainable Development Goal’s target 3.6 of halving the number of road deaths by 2020.

Not only are the world leaders under-delivering vis-à-vis global commitments on road-safety, but also inequalities are increasing, within and among countries. More than half of global road traffic induced deaths are amongst vulnerable road users (children, pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists). People in low-income countries run a three-time higher risk of dying in a road crash than people in high-income countries. While some reductions were observed in middle and high income countries, there has been no reduction in the number of road traffic deaths in any low-income countries since 2013.

Despite the fact that road crashes are the 8th leading cause of death for people of all ages and the number 1 killer of children and young adults aged 5-29, road safety does not receive the attention it deserves in the global health, development, and child health agendas. Political commitments and financial investments in road safety are exiguous in comparison with those made to tackle other health issues, even though the number of deaths and impairments caused by road unsafety is much higher and they are definitely preventable.

Road crashes are preventable and progresses can be made

Road crashes are not a fatality, nor the price to pay for development and urbanisation. It is well known that certain concrete interventions (i.e. safety standards, policy enforcement, smart road design, and public awareness campaigns) are effective to prevent road crashes, improve road safety and save lives. With strong political will, these interventions can be implemented systematically and world-wide, thus translating road safety commitments into reality.

The study “Making cities inclusive: safe mobility for persons with disabilities in developing countries published by Humanity & Inclusion (HI) in 2018, integrates insights from countries where projects run by HI and its partners have led to concrete results. For example, in Burkina Faso, the Ministry of Transport has incorporated new measures, including accessible road crossings and traffic calming measures. In Laos, persons with disabilities were consulted to put in place a Bus Rapid Transit system and a detailed guide on how to improve road safety and accessibility was produced to the attention of government departments and the private sector.

The Global Status Report on Road Safety provides evidence on progresses and gaps across the three interacting elements of the “Safe Systems Approach”: improving the attitudes and behaviour of road users, designing and constructing road environments to reduce crash risks, encouraging manufacturers to produce and consumers to buy safer vehicles.

Since 2014, 22 countries have amended their laws to appropriately address risks such as speeding, drink-driving, the use of helmets, seat-belts and child restraints, resulting in an additional one billion people covered by effective road traffic laws. Despite the progresses made in improving legislation, enforcement remains a major challenge, with only one-third of countries rating their enforcement as «good». Progresses have been made also to improve safety of roads and infrastructures: 114 countries currently undertake systematic assessments or star rating of existing roads. However, it is estimated that 88% of pedestrian travel occurs on roads that are still unsafe. Littler steps ahead have been done in ensuring the safety of vehicles: to date, only 40 mainly high income countries have implemented almost every UN vehicle safety standards.

We cannot miss the opportunity to renew and reinforce commitments on road safety

The 2011- 2020 Decade of Action on Road Safety has certainly led to increased global attention on this topic and has contributed to generate the (still too modest!) progresses listed above. As we approach the end of the Decade and the deadline of SDG target 3.6, we need to recall the attention of world leaders on the alarming evidence of the human, economic and development costs caused by road unsafety and urge further action to reverse the tragic trend of deaths and injuries.

At the UN Conference on Road Safety in 2020, in Sweden, the international community will have the chance to firmly establish new global road safety efforts up to 2030.

We call on all stakeholders, including governments and NGOs, to look ahead. It is essential that national governments take part in and commit to this debate and that NGOs lend them their support and expertise in preparation”, said Lotte Brondum, Executive Director at the Global Alliance of NGOs for Road Safety.

A sense of urgency and responsibility must be reinforced across the wide spectrum of actors involved in road safety: governments, local authorities, international organisations, the private sector, and civil society. Each one has its role to play.

Civil society has relentlessly supported victims, raised public awareness, enabled the participation of vulnerable groups, advised and accompanied authorities in the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of road safety strategies and plans, and advocated for the needed changes. We need to continue all these actions, and intensify our joint advocacy efforts (for example via a common campaign led by the Global Alliance of NGOs for Road Safety): the months and years to come are decisive to ensure that road safety receives the political attention it deserves and that strong commitments generate equally strong and coherent actions and results.