Marching towards tomorrow, and onwards for safety

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Blink and you may have missed that the beginning of May was the third United Nations Road Safety Week.  As with everything omnipresent in our lives, the steady drumbeat of the nightly local news reporting a fatal wreck or injury may only cause a passing glance. Yet, a number of recent actions have focused international institutions, non-governmental organizations, the private sector and others together to take on the number one killer of young people worldwide: road crashes.

GRSF’s Marc Shotten at the UN SDG Briefing
The end of April saw the United Nations Secretary General announced the creation of a Special Envoy for Road Safety, signaling a new level of growing attention to the topic. While this year’s UN Road Safety Week was dedicated to the theme of protecting children, it’s really about ensuring the safety of all ages, especially in the developing world, where 90 percent of road crashes occur each year.

The United Kingdom, Netherlands and Sweden consistently occupy the top of the road safety league table. As the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020 hits its mid-point, practitioners are working on transferring these countries’ (and others) lessons more quickly across the developing world. In the meantime, the overall cost of fatal and serious injuries in just the 80 lowest-income countries is estimated to be a staggering $220 billion per year and a global average equivalent to 3-5% of GDP loss.

Action is needed now, to avoid the forecasted rise of road fatalities to be the fifth-overall leading cause of death worldwide by 2030.

There will likely not be a single breakthrough moment to get this topic into the realm of more mainstreamed development issues, but rather a series of sustained pushes across spheres of activity at the country, regional and global level. The month of March 2015 saw three telling activities play out with global aspirations.

A push to include road safety in the United Nation’s global “SDGs”

A political push was made during an advocacy and technical meeting  held at the UN to discuss the critical importance of securing the existing two targets for road safety in the forthcoming global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  Road safety is included in two draft SDG targets: within the proposed Health Goal (3.6) to halve road traffic fatalities and injuries and in Cities Goal 11.2, which calls for access to safe transport systems.

 Achieving the passage of the SDG’s targets for road safety would be a major milestone for the subject, and implementation of these goals will very much rely upon the “Safe System” approach which puts at its heart the design of road transit systems that prevent harm to its users. The World Bank and partners are key proponents of the Safe System philosophy.

A growing movement to scale up road safety awareness and advocacy

March also saw the Fourth Global Meeting of the NGO Global Alliance for Road Safety, the first civil society umbrella organization dedicated to road safety advocacy.  With over 140 member NGOs active in more than 90 countries, the Global Alliance exists to share best practices and collectively advocate the rights of victims of road traffic injury. An outcome of this event featured the announcement to form a National Alliance of NGOs for Road Safety in India, a country that reports 130,000 road fatalities each year.

Making sure that cars in the developing world meet safety standards

Another push in March related to the automotive industry. Global NCAP (New Car Assessment Program) published its opus on “Democratizing Car Safety: Road Map for Safer Cars 2020.” 2013 saw global production of vehicles around a 50:50 split (high-income 51 percent vs. 49 percent in the rest of the world). Global NCAP has made its mark in the last years by crash testing (and star safety rating) vehicles imported to developing countries and those domestically produced there — leading in some cases to reveal very popular models with strong safety records sold in high income countries lack their same features when sold elsewhere in the world.

Global NCAP’s consumer awareness program has focused attention on many major brands such as Volkswagen, Nissan and Tata. Their road map lays out a staged approach for UN member states to meet minimum UN vehicle safety regulations and the subsequent scale up in country laboratories to inspect and report on the safety of vehicles.

March to Brazil and beyond

The above activities neither singularly nor collectively represent the tipping point — but are indicative of emerging actions and priorities heading into this November’s second-ever global ministerial meeting on road safety. The early bottom line going in is that in order to effectively meet the draft UN SDG targets on road safety, governments need to step up their road safety management ability, which means stronger domestic oversight and political will to prioritize the subject.

The good news is there is seemingly less emphasis on the concept that “educating” road users is a panacea vs commitments at the country level towards safer infrastructure, vehicle safety and road traffic police enforcement. These need complementary action on data collection, post-crash care, targeted campaigns, and strong monitoring and evaluation efforts — which can collectively result in sustainable behavioral change and lives saved. Countries need the ability to manage all these sectors, and some are facing up to this critical institutional challenge by backing funded agencies that can coordinate results.

Low- and middle-income countries also need external donor aid to transition to a sustainable road safety footing. The World Bank’s Global Road Safety Facility, now entering its tenth year of operations, has been among the first global funds of its type to develop new tools and capacity -building projects to help catalyze road safety investment in the developing world.

The UN Road Safety week put a spotlight on keeping current and new generations of the young safe in a rapidly moving world. To ensure their safe mobility for a more prosperous future, those bringing attention to this relatively neglected development subject are trying to speed up solutions — something that is happening only step-by-step.

March 2015 was a good month. The question remains regarding how many deaths and injuries can be avoided at this pace — or if we can scale up now in order to avoid what is inevitably coming.    


Marc Shotten

Sr. Transport Specialist

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