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It’s time to end deaths on our roads

As Ministers meet at the first-ever High-level Meeting of the UN General Assembly on Global Road Safety, we need four key shifts to save countless lives.

28 June 2022
Road safety affects everyone. We step from our homes every day onto roads that lead us to our jobs, schools and to meet our daily needs. Yet our transport systems remain far too dangerous, with tragic, needless and unacceptable costs. Worldwide, road crashes kill around 1.3 million people each year – more than two every minute – with nine in ten deaths occurring in low-and middle-income countries. Crashes are the biggest killer of children and young people globally, and are set to cause around 13 million more deaths and 500 million more injuries in the next decade if we don’t act now. The Global Plan for the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2021 – 2030 calls for a fundamental shift in how we approach mobility. This will help the world halve deaths from crashes by 2030, and reap a range of wider benefits for people, planet and prosperity. Leaders meeting at the first-ever High-level Meeting of the UN General Assembly on Global Road Safety this week are committing to action on the Global Plan, which calls for four life-saving shifts.  

Safety must be priority

Our car-based transportation systems are geared towards efficiency, not safety. As a result, more than 50 million people have died on the roads since the invention of the automobile. That’s more deaths than in World War I, so putting safety at the core of our mobility systems is an urgent health, economic and moral imperative.

Sweden’s pioneering ‘Vision Zero’ approach to road safety, launched in 1997, aims to ensure that transport systems always put safety front and centre, with the aim of avoiding any deaths or serious injuries. More and more countries and cities follow this approach, placing the responsibility for safety on the system and its design, rather than individual road users.By its very nature, a safe system that is guided by the vision of zero fatalities prioritizes the most vulnerable, such as pedestrians and cyclists, because when our transport systems are built to protect the most vulnerable, everyone benefits.And we know it works, as we’ve seen dramatic reductions in deaths in countries and cities that have implemented this approach, including Australia, Japan, the United Arab Emirates, Singapore and Oslo. In Sweden, the number of deaths fell by nearly 75% in the 20 years to 2020. 

A holistic approach

Many countries have made their roads safer through important individual actions, such as making infrastructure safer by adding barriers, sidewalks and cycle lanes; improving vehicle safety standards; and adopting and enforcing laws around speeding, drink driving and the use of seat-belts or helmets.All this crucial work saves lives and must continue, yet addressing each issue in isolation is not enough to bring deaths down to zero. While building on these successes, countries must embrace an approach that looks at mobility systems as a whole. They must strengthen public transport systems by making them safe, affordable and easy to use. This includes making walking and cycling safer.This holistic approach works. The Colombian capital of Bogota halved deaths over ten years through a set of integrated actions, including wide-ranging technical improvements and regulatory reforms that were driven by strong leadership.

Shared responsibility 

Road safety is everyone’s business, and the safe system approach requires a range of sectors to be involved, not just transport and health.Urban planners, engineers and development banks must ensure safety is built into the design of cities and all transport infrastructure. Academia and civil society can generate useful evidence to inform policies and actions, and can help ensure that governments are held to account. The media can focus more on solutions, not just crashes.The private sector has tremendous influence. Businesses and industries can contribute to strengthening road safety by applying safe system principles to their entire value chains.India achieved exemplary results in working with businesses to boost road safety. In 2014, crash tests revealed that some of India’s top selling cars would fail key UN safety tests. To their credit, a number of vehicle manufacturers voluntarily improved the safety of their vehicles. Yet better regulation was needed, and today regulations for impacts and pedestrian protection that meet global UN standards are applicable to all new cars in India. 

Transformative leadership

To bring Vision Zero to life everywhere, we need commitment and coordination from governments at all levels, starting right at the very top. Leadership from the highest political levels has been crucial in countries where we’ve seen successes in boosting road safety, and what we need now is a step change in leadership and actions from all governments around the world. This is the only way to ensure that ministries of transport, health, interior, finance, education and others work together.Governments must lead and facilitate their national road safety strategies. They must set up and maintain the necessary coordination tools to ensure their full implementation. They must provide strong legal frameworks and sustainable investments.With the first-ever High-level Meeting of the UN General Assembly on Global Road Safety taking place this week, the world is finally waking up to the scale of the road safety crisis.The Global Plan for the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2021 – 2030 offers the promise of a safer, healthier and better future for everyone, and the time for action is right now. 

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