Car companies and countries must act to save lives on the road
Today is the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims. On this occasion my thoughts go to all the victims, their families and friends. 1.25 million people die on the roads every year and up to 50 million children, women, men are injured – many of them for life. Road crashes have become the 8th leading cause of death in the world, and the number one cause of death for young people aged 15-29, leaving millions of families in despair and wrecking entire communities.
What to say to parents, brothers, sisters, who have lost their loved ones in a car crash? That it is destiny? That we can’t help it? The truth is that we do know what to do to prevent accidents, or limit their gravity. Road crashes are not a fatality, most of them can be avoided. But this requires drive, and persistent commitment over years.
In just a few days, government officials and representatives of civil society from all over the world will meet in Brasilia for the second Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety (18-19 November). Six years ago, the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety (2011-2020) set the ambitious goal of stabilizing, then reversing the growing trend of road crash death and injury, thereby saving an estimated 5 million lives. In the newly adopted Sustainable Development Goals we promise to half the number of global deaths and injuries from road traffic accidents by 2020!
Globally, the increase in deaths from road accidents has slowed down, despite the surge in road traffic all over the world, but we are far from seeing a decline. Over the past decades, under the auspices of UNECE, the United Nations has developed many conventions governing a variety of road safety areas. These legal instruments are in place: we know how to build safer vehicles; we know how to build safe roads; we know the benefits of advanced and consistent traffic rules and road signs in making roads safer. We also know that clear national road safety strategies containing goals and targets have proven successful in many countries around the world, when coupled with information campaigns to mobilize civil society and strengthened enforcement mechanisms.
So, what do we need to reverse the trend? We need action by the motor industry itself. Too often, in middle-income countries, which with low- income countries now concentrate 90% of the world’s deaths, cars do not include safety features which are taken for granted nowadays. Their frame is weakened, airbags are not included, stability measures excluded to save a few hundred dollars. As a result people are killed. And those who buy such cars may not even know it, since in many cases proper information on safety is lacking.
I therefore call on the motor industry as a whole and on all car and parts makers individually to ensure that well-established safety standards be applied to all vehicles sold in low- and middle-income countries. This will be the best contribution their Corporate Social Responsibility strategies can deliver to the world.
At the same time all governments must live up to their responsibilities. All countries must ensure that any cars used on their territory comply with better safety standards. Today, less than half of the countries in the world have implemented minimum UN regulations to ensure safe vehicles! This is not good enough. I therefore urge all UN member States to ratify and fully apply the UN legal instruments on road safety.
Together with Mr. Jean Todt, Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for Road Safety,we will advocate in Brasilia for a strong commitment from countries, companies and civil society to design and implement strategies to improve road safety and to effectively implement the United Nations road safety legal instruments. We stand ready, with our partners in the road safety community, to help countries to accede and implement them.
We can save millions of children, women and men from dying or being injured in traffic accidents. Let us do it.
If you wonder why the animal accompanying my blog is a cow, it is because cows are fascinating animals; the cows of our host country, Switzerland, are famous for their quality; and because I am still a farmer, and miss the cows I had in Denmark. Now I got one back.