Mobility is a primary enabler of our economic and social life. However, despite its many benefits, the costs of mobility to societies around the world remain unacceptably high. These include greenhouse gas emissions (transport accounts for some 24% of global CO2 emissions, three quarters of which is from road vehicles), pollution, and the road crashes that alone claim 1.4 million lives annually, or some 3,800 fatalities every single day.
As people around the world mobilize for the 6th UN Global Road Safety Week (17-23 May), I urge everyone to take stock of this critical situation and commit to stop this senseless loss of lives.
It is time to put safety at the heart of an urgent shift to more sustainable mobility. What we need is more than a few corrective policies: we must change our mindset so that as societies we no longer tolerate road crashes as an inevitable consequence of how we move around.
In fact, we know what to do to prevent crashes, or limit their gravity. Road crashes are not a fatality, and most of them can be avoided. But this will require building much greater commitment for action, by each and every one of us. At the political level, road safety must become a priority, and for this we must capitalize on efforts made so far.
The international community, through the UN General Assembly, rightly recognized over 10 years ago that the alarming death toll on the roads is too much to bear, especially given the fact that low-and middle-income countries account for 90% of deaths. Member States responded with the First Decade of Action on Road Safety (2011-2020), which yielded important results. In not one, but two Sustainable Development Goals, governments agreed to explicitly highlight the need to shape mobility in a much safer and sustainable way.
This period brought the nomination in 2015 of the first-ever Special Envoy on Road Safety, Mr. Jean Todt, and the establishment in 2018 of the UN Road Safety Fund; both of which have been working tirelessly to scale up action to save lives in developing countries. I am proud that UNECE hosts the Secretariats for these two key actors and we remain more committed than ever to support their vital work.
Importantly, through the First Decade, we saw increased political attention and investments being directed to road safety at the national, regional and global levels. This included the Global Road Safety ministerial meetings hosted by Brazil, Russia and Sweden, and the emergence of a vibrant UN Road Safety Collaboration as an informal platform for various players, led by WHO.
Unfortunately, a lot remains to be done. Globally, the number of road deaths continues to rise, and global emissions from the transport sector have also increased steadily. I urge all countries to seize their socio-economic recovery from the pandemic as an opportunity to shift to safer and more sustainable mobility.
At all levels, more must – and, crucially – can be done, as Member States’ 2020 UN General Assembly Resolution demonstrated. We now have a Second Decade of Action on Road Safety (2021-2030) – a strong signal of continued political commitment towards safe and sustainable mobility, everywhere, and of the readiness to take even greater action.
Now, the task is to seize this strong engagement and translate it into concrete efforts, and the good news is that we already have some proven solutions. First of all, countries must accede to and implement the seven core UN Road Safety Conventions, which offer a basis to legislate and implement practical measures to address the main causes of crashes, covering areas such as traffic rules, road infrastructure, road signs and signals, all aspects of vehicle safety and the transport of hazardous materials. There is a strong correlation in most cases between compliance with our 7 Conventions and reduced mortality on the roads.
In EU and EFTA countries, which have among the safest roads in the world, the implementation of these practical tools has contributed to a sharp reduction in road fatalities, with some 20,000 fewer deaths in 2015 compared to 2005. Crucially, these measures can make a difference in countries all around the world. For instance, a study carried out by the UK Transport Research Laboratory found that if 4 key UN vehicle regulations (on seat belts and lateral and frontal collision) were implemented in Latin America, 40,000 deaths could be prevented between 2016 and 2030.
It is encouraging that countries all around the world are harnessing these conventions to address key risks: in 2020, Thailand joined the Convention on Road Traffic, Pakistan joined an agreement on periodic technical inspections for vehicles, and Uzbekistan joined the Agreement governing the safe transport of chemicals; following accessions in 2018, Nigeria has now joined all of the key UN road safety conventions.
But there is a very long way to go before everyone in low- and middle-income countries can fully enjoy the human right to move around without fear of death or injury on the roads. We must also recognize that governments cannot do it alone. Reaching our 2030 vision of halving the number of road deaths and injuries requires massively scaling-up financing for road safety, at both domestic and multilateral levels, from both public and private sectors.
A High-Level Meeting on Financing for Road Safety next year, convened by the President of the UN General Assembly and co-chaired by Russia and Ivory Coast, will discuss how this can be done in practice. I look forward to the related preparatory meetings that will gather Member States and stakeholders’ views in the second half of 2021.
One key vehicle is the UN Road Safety Fund, which offers a unique opportunity to catalyze and channel the investments we need towards proven and innovative road safety initiatives. Leveraging the collective know-how of the UN system and corporates, the UN Road Safety Fund continues to demonstrate the power of multistakeholder partnerships in tackling this global development challenge.
Efforts made so far clearly show the potential of targeted interventions to contribute to the systemic shifts we need. For example, to tackle the challenge of unsafe roads for children, the Fund supported Paraguay's Ministry of Housing and Urban Planning to issue a directive ensuring that all future urban development projects take child rights into consideration. This includes National universities integrating the project's model school zones in civil engineering and architecture programmes. In Addis Ababa, the Fund provided technical review to the design of a temporary bicycle lane during the COVID-19 pandemic to meet changing mobility needs, contributing to a 7.5-factor increase in cycling on this corridor. This also points to the value of integrating safety and sustainability considerations in policymaking.
Increased financing for these vital actions for road safety can be a powerful catalyst to mobilize far greater investments that will pay off exponentially. As the expression goes, money talks: road deaths and injuries cost developing countries between 3 and 5 per cent of GDP, keeping hundreds of millions of people in poverty. In fact, road crashes jeopardize the whole sustainable development agenda, hindering important progress on access to quality education, effective medical and health systems, gender equality and women’s empowerment, access to water and sanitation, climate action and other crucial areas. Safe roads mean safer communities and more efficient transport networks, which in turn reduces expenses linked to road transport and ultimately improves business opportunities. The private sector therefore has a key interest and an important role to play in improving road safety.
Investing in road safety is investing in sustainable development, and given the scale of the challenge, there can be no sustainable development without significantly improving road safety. I call on all governments, the private sector, civil society and all stakeholders to step up their engagement for joint action. The stakes for us all are too high not to ramp up our individual and collective investment in the success of the Second Decade for Action on Road Safety.