Sheila Atieno, from Kenya, always tells her students to look both ways before crossing the street.
She understands the importance of carefully navigating roads. When she was 11, she lost a close friend. He was on his way to school when his life was taken by a speeding truck. So Atieno, now 26, decided that it was time to take action. She became a Coordinator of the African Region for YOURS, a global youth-led organization dedicated to road safety issues. She is also a leader of a group in Kenya called YOURS-K. Its mission is to “use all means possible to ensure that all road users arrive safely to their destinations.”
Road incidents are the number one cause of death for youth worldwide according to the UN Campaign for Global Road Safety. The economic cost of road accidents in developing countries is estimated to be at least $100 billion a year. Because of the staggering number of road accidents each year, this decade has been declared as the UN Decade of Action (2011-2020) for Road Safety. The UN has identified 10 reasons why road accidents are more dangerous than we think. According to the report, road accidents kill more people than malaria and 90% of casualties occur in developing countries.
The good news is that the number of deaths related to road accidents can be prevented and reduced. “All sectors of society need to be involved, government, private sector, and communities,” said Marc Sanford Shotten, Senior Transport Specialist at the World Bank. “Youth can take responsibility in their hands by becoming role models.”
Atieno is one those role models. She organizes workshops in Kenya to raise awareness about road safety. In December 2011, she organized The 3,000 Shoe Parade, a powerful illustration of the ramifications of road accidents. The group placed shoes along the parade path to help represent the 3,000 Kenyans killed every year in road crashes.
“The biggest challenge is trying to change their (youth’s) attitude on road safety,” said Nellie Ghusayni, YOURS Program Officer based in Lebanon. “Also, in low-and middle-income countries, young people don’t have cars; most of them walk to school and work. Pedestrian safety is a key issue.”
Pedestrian safety is the theme of the second UN Global Road Safety Week, which will be celebrated May 6-12, 2013. Organizations, governments and all interested in the issue are encouraged to plan national and local events to generation attention and action around pedestrian safety.
So what can you do to increase your road safety? YOURS has published the Youth and Road Safety Action Kit!, a toolkit meant to encourage and inform young people from around the world. The illustrations below, produced by YOURS, show some of the steps young people can take to be more visible to drivers and help prevent accidents.
Atieno believes that road accidents can be decreased drastically when the international community, local governments, and civil society come together and work with youth. “Youth are great advocates. They should ‘demand’ road safety laws in their communities, so they can go to school, and be safe. Youth can lobby and educate decision-makers and ask for road safety,” said Atieno.
What can you do in your community to raise awareness on road safety? Have you had any experiences like Sheila Atieno had? We want to hear your ideas, experiences, and the challenges you face when it comes to road safety. Share your comments below.