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The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), together with the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for Road Safety, Mr. Jean Todt commemorated the beginning of the Fourth Global Road Safety Week today by holding a high-level roundtable to discuss the impact good governance can have on road safety.

Every year 1.25 million people are killed and around 50 million injured in road traffic crashes, making it one of the most pressing health emergencies of our time. Every day 500 children lose their lives because of road crashes. It is the leading cause of death for young people aged 15 to 29, and the eighth leading cause of death globally.  

According to today’s roundtable, which was under the title “On the Road to Good Governance for Road Safety” one of the things that can reduce these numbers is an active dedication from government towards a road safety plan.   However, this involves more than putting policies in place that limit speed, create infrastructure that promotes safe driving and protects pedestrians, and require seatbelts and helmets.  It also involves active engagement in constructing traffic rules and regulation, enforcement, adequate driver training and public education about road safety.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Mr. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, said in a special address that the momentum seems to have changed to support a larger push towards taking on road safety globally. 

“If 1.3 million people die every year because of terrorism we wouldn’t be talking about anything else.  But the fact that these people die in traffic accidents doesn’t make it easier on the families that are losing a child or loved one,” said Mr. Hussein. “I do think the level of attention to this issue is changing now with the appointment of Jean (Todt) as the Special Envoy for Road Safety, and the attention that these numbers are rightly bring to the issue.”

Mr. Jean Todt pointed out in his remarks that many of the policies that are a key for governments to reduce road fatalities such as safer cars, safer infrastructure and public education, already exist and have been a proven blueprint for many countries.  

“We have all of the solutions at hand,” said Mr. Todt.  “With the right political will, and with tools such as the UN Road Safety Conventions and optimal road safety management approaches, I know that we can reach our goals and make safer roads a reality for all.”

Many of these solutions are found laid out in United Nations road safety legal instruments as UNECE Executive Secretary Mr. Christian Friis Bach pointed out in his remarks. 

In his remarks, Mr. Friis Bach said the development of good institutions which can directly address road safety issues on the country level must be built on a strong normative internationally agreed upon frameworks.  In fact, he pointed out, countries have been cooperating for decades to create these frameworks through UNECE and the Inland Transport Committee (ITC) which is serviced by UNECE. 

“I believe multilateralism is necessary for any future success on this type of issue.  Strong frameworks built by individual nation states coming together to address a common problem,” said Mr. Bach.  “Indeed, when it comes to road safety countries have come together for here at UNECE for 70 years to agree on the various UN road safety legal instruments which can serve as the framework for a strong national road safety institutions,” he said referring to both the UNECE and ITC which is serviced by UNECE celebrating their 70th anniversary this year. 

The roundtable consisted of a series of four presentations by high level panellists. 

UN road safety conventions: the way forward for safer roads in South East Asia showing how important these legal instruments are as foundations for improving road safety - by Mr. Rohit Baluja, President, Institute of Road Traffic Education, India

Improving safety on the world’s roads focusing on appropriate implementation of road signage and markings - by Mr. Adel Alyousifi, Senior President, The Late Easa Alyousifi Foundation, Kuwait

Road safety governance of tomorrow discussing the governance for automation - by Ms. Luciana Iorio, Chair, Global Forum for Road Traffic Safety (WP.1)

Information about a policy tool called SafeFITS  which is to offer ways to understand the impacts of road safety policies in national and municipal context - by Ms. Eva Molnar, Director, UNECE Sustainable Transport Division

An additional Keynote address was delivered by Ms. Mary Bottagisio, Executive Director, Liga Contra la Violencia Vial, Colombia.  In her speech, she discussed road safety as a social issue, pointing out how 80 % of road fatalities in Colombia involve a motorbike, which is the most common transportation means for poor citizens who cannot afford a car.  Ms. Bottagisio agrees that the government could protect its poorer citizens by providing more adequate public transportation, thereby giving a better option. 

The theme of this year’s Global Road Safety Week was “Slow Down” with the focus on speed management and what can be done to address this key risk factor for road traffic deaths and injuries. Therefore, it launches action through the ongoing campaign: Save Lives - #SlowDown.   Speed management is one of the many road safety issues covered by the United Nations road safety legal instruments. Today’s commencement event “On the Road to Good Governance for Road Safety” shows the role that government, though application of the UN Conventions, has to play in not only speed management but in creating safer roads for all.