“If we tell people that they should walk and cycle, and it is not safe, as in many countries and cities, we are sending people to their deaths.” -Doctor. Etienne Krug
Traffic accidents claim about 1.3 million lives worldwide each year – more than two every minute, and more than 50 million people are seriously affected by injuries. More than 50 million people have died on the world’s roads since the invention of the automobile.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the leading agency for road safety, in addition to human suffering, accidents also place a huge financial burden on victims and their families through the cost of treating the injured and the loss of productivity of those killed or disabled. in the United Nations.
Tragedy goes beyond the personal: they have a serious impact on national economies.
To draw attention to the public health crisis, the Office of the President of the United Nations General Assembly hosted the first high-level meeting on global road safety at the United Nations Headquarters in New York on 30 June and 1 July.
Etienne Krug, director of the WHO’s Department of Social Determinants of Health, spoke with Forbes about a two-day program to improve safety around the world.
Dr. Krug’s responses were edited for clarity and length.
Forbes: Why is there so much attention to road safety?
Dr. Krugo: Our cities are overwhelmed by our car-based transportation system. It causes deaths, injuries and disabilities, and it causes pollution and traffic jams. It is not durable. We need to move towards more sustainable transportation. But to do that we have to make it safe. Parents should feel confident in sending their children to school by bike or bus, or on foot. If we tell people that they should walk and cycle, and it is not safe, as in many, many countries and cities, we are sending people to their deaths.
Road safety is not a new issue. Why is this meeting now?
There was a strong feeling that it was needed. Many health-related topics are not discussed in a high-level meeting in the United Nations General Assembly. There have been HIV, non-communicable diseases, tuberculosis, and maybe one or two others. Since this is such a multi-sectoral subject, it is completely understandable to have a high level meeting. It was also the first time that the Secretary-General of the United Nations came to a UN General Assembly debate on road safety, an important sign of commitment and a level of necessary interest.
What was the main goal?
The aim was to bring attention to the highest level at the national and city level. This was the first international gathering since the Stockholm Conference (Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety in 2020) which had a tremendous amount of energy and a great enthusiasm, but we lost some of that during the COVID pandemic. It was an opportunity to regain that focus, energy and momentum.
(Forbes: Stockholm DeclarationA series of recommendations to improve road safety around the world, the official result was Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety In Stockholm in 2020)
How was the earlier meeting different from the others?
This was the first high-level meeting on road safety (an official UN term meaning a two-day event at the highest possible level of government) with more opportunities for discussion, dialogue, awareness raising and commitment than previous UN meetings, which usually take two hours. We received official statements from about 80 member states, and ministers from different corners of the world participated, from Argentina to Luxembourg to Sweden. Malaysia was there. We also had keynote speeches, plenary sessions, panel discussions and several side events, so there was a lot of talk.
How would you characterize the current level of interest in road safety?
It has been a natural progression from almost complete ignorance of the subject at the international level 20 years ago to a very high level of attention. Since then, the UN’s Sustainable Development Agenda has focused on two goals dedicated to road safety – the Decade of Action and the Decade of Action – and the realization that in order to be successful at the national level, you need many different ministries. Good coordination is required. Transport, health, education and finance at the highest levels of government. If you leave road safety to a single ministry, it often doesn’t work because you need to participate in all these other parts of the government.
,Forbes, The United Nations declared ten years between 2011-2020 as the first Decade of Action for Road Safety, and as the second decade of action between 2021 and 2030. Both helped member states reduce road deaths and serious injuries by at least 50% by adopting measures such as improving the design of roads, vehicles and infrastructure, enhancing laws and enforcement, and providing better emergency care. To establish a global plan.)
Did the meeting go according to plan?
This has not been a smooth process, as the international political climate is very polarized right now. Therefore, this is not the ideal time to discuss a political announcement, so we are glad that we did. Basically, the international community had to rally and they were able to get consensus based on the importance they wanted to give to the subject, which is a feat in itself in the current political climate.
What was the end result?
The formal result was the adoption of a strong political declaration. For the second decade of action, we have full consent from all member states. The question is, how do we translate this global goal into national and local action? To achieve this, each country needs to set its own goals and develop its own plan by identifying roles and responsibilities in different parts of governments, civil society and the private sector, and have dedicated funding, so we can accelerate this. meet and turn it into a real action.
A skeptic would say that the goal of the first decade of action, halving road deaths from 2010 to 2020, did not happen – the number of deaths worldwide actually increased. Do you think this initiative will make a difference?
I’m sure it will. In the first decade of action, we had relative success in restraining growth; We now have a plateau in terms of deaths, despite the fact that the population is increasing globally and there are more cars on the road. But that’s not enough and we don’t want to be satisfied with just a plateau. We want to see a serious shortfall.
In the post-Covid crisis, this was an opportunity to bring road safety back into the limelight. How many complex problems the world faces, but it is a complex problem for which we know the solution. It’s not like we’re scratching our heads to know how to make our roads safer. We know what to do But we are not doing this. It’s a matter of political will to say “Okay, we’re going to implement these solutions.” A meeting like this helps create momentum, build energy, and let ideas cross. Many ministers heard from other ministers about what they were doing, and there were several side meetings to learn and collaborate. Of course, UN meetings are not enough. They need to be followed up with capacity building, financial support and constant reminders and activations. But yes, it will definitely make a difference.
You mentioned Bogota, Colombia, which recently halved road deaths over a ten-year period. How did the city do this?
One of the key recommendations in the Stockholm Declaration and Decade of Action is a shift from a car-based transport system to a people-centred one, and to make it safer for people to walk, cycle and use public transport. Bogota has taken steps in that direction by developing a robust public transport system.
Another important recommendation among those initiatives is that the private sector play a more active and positive role. This has a direct impact on road safety, for example, car manufacturers, auto equipment manufacturers, the alcohol industry and the media. Companies can also take an active role, especially those with large fleets and many employees, whom they can influence. The private sector can contribute to road safety, but it is not enough. The time has come for the private sector to step up.
In Bogota, this effort was led by the public sector.
What were some other highlights of the meeting?
There was strong support from NGOs representing the victims, who made passionate arguments that are always sentimental, but also inspiring. The youth had a very strong presence in recognition of their contribution to road safety and to play an even greater role in decision making. I think this is very important, because road traffic accidents are the leading cause of death among young adults. They are the ones who will probably drive the modal shift. I can see that a lot of young people don’t own a car, but are willing to use public transport and bicycles and do a lot of walking, and I think this will set the tone for the future.
You said that it would take a holistic approach to successfully address the death toll on the world’s roads. Can individual people help?
We all need to think about the greater good, and be aware that our behavior affects ourselves as well as others, and through our behavior we can save lives. We can also be role models for the younger generation, and think about our transportation modes, to see if cycling or walking or taking public transport is an option. We are all satisfied when there is a positive result, and we can collectively change that. This is one area where we can really do that. It is in the hands of the governments, it is in the hands of the private sector, but it is also in our own hands.
To view recorded excerpts of the meeting, broadcast on UN Web TV, click here.