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Jakarta Post

UN calls on nations to make roads safer

  • Elly Burhaini Faizal
    Elly Burhaini Faizal

    The Jakarta Post

Stockholm   /   Fri, February 21, 2020   /   01:59 pm
UN calls on nations to make roads safer Illustration of a road accident (Shutterstock/WICHAI WONGJONGJAIHAN)

The United Nations has called on governments to take responsibility in preventing road deaths and serious injuries by putting safety at the forefront of planning, investment and products in the field of transportation.

Speaking on behalf United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, UN special envoy for road safety Jean Todt said that, in recent years, UN member states, intergovernmental organizations, nongovernmental partners, multilateral development banks and academic institutions had acted to reduce risks on the world’s roads.

The UN system had mobilized the development of legal instruments, best practices and policy recommendations on road safety, Todt said. This was a solid foundation, he added, but clearly not enough.

Road safety is one of greatest development challenges, according to the UN. 

Traffic accidents cause deaths among young people and have lowered people’s income in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Each year, some 1.35 million drivers, cyclists, passengers and pedestrians are killed on roads, while 15 million others are severely injured, devastating families across the world and posing a setback to global efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

To achieve its targets for the Decade of Action for Road Safety, Todt said, the UN needed to ensure that safety was a measurable indicator in building vehicles, infrastructure, the transportation system and related facilities introduced to the market.

“If we continue to [flood] our transportation system with unworthy elements that bring devastation to our citizens, we will not be able to achieve our safe and sustainable transportation for all,” Todt said during the opening ceremony of the 3rd Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety: Achieving Global Goals 2030, which takes place in Stockholm from Wednesday to Thursday.

Saving lives by improving road safety is one of many objectives in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. During a UN General Assembly meeting last month, Guterres launched A Decade of Action to deliver Sustainable Development Goals. The secretary-general said at the time that the entire UN system was committed to working with all partners to expand global movements for the goals to unlock financing and to generate innovation and solutions needed to deliver a better life for all people across the world.

The Stockholm meeting was held to kick off a new decade of SDG action for road safety to 2030 as A Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011 – 2020 will expire at the end of this year.

“We are here to unite forces to achieve a drastic reduction in road traffic fatalities and injuries over the next 10 years,” said Todt.

At the two-day conference, 1,700 delegates from 140 countries had a chance to attend plenary discussions, during which ministers and senior officials talked about lessons learned from A Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011 – 2020 and what priorities countries would pursue in the next 10 years.  

Todt said the high number of deaths and serious injuries caused by road accidents was unacceptable because fatalities could in fact often be prevented. “[The road] is created to improve prosperity, better education and ensure accessible health services and cleaner air. This is not a means to create disabilities and place a heavy burden on health systems and families,” he said.

Speaking during the opening ceremony, the Swedish king, Carl XVI Gustaf, said 15 years ago, more than 200 Swedish children lost their lives in traffic accidents. Citing reliable statistics, the king said the number was now down to only 16. “Of course, 16 is not zero, but it is a lot better than 200. For many decades, politicians, civil society groups and industry have worked together seeking innovative solutions that make Swedish traffic safer for everybody. Despite accomplishments, [much work] still needs to be done,” he said.

“Through the years, I have done quite a lot of driving myself, mostly in Stockholm and across Europe. One thing becomes apparent from driving through different countries: Traffic is cross-border and so are the challenges, especially because the number of people and vehicles have continued to increase. This is why it is very important to come together, exchange knowledge, experiences and ideas from all over the world,” he went on.

The Swedish king further said a huge participation of decisionmakers and experts in the Stockholm meeting proved there was a strong global commitment to improving road safety. “This conference [creates] a lot opportunity to link the road safety challenges to other sustainable challenges, such as climate change, health, equality, poverty and human rights. We need to [address] these challenges together and remember that road traffic deaths and injuries are preventable,” said King Carl Gustaf.

During a video conference, World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus reminded conference participants about the huge health impact of road traffic accidents, highlighting the need for necessary collaboration to end “preventable deaths and injuries”. Leaders from the sectors of transportation, infrastructure and health had to be part of the solution.

Countries were now in a critical time at the end of a Decade of Action 2011 – 2020 and SDG goals 3.6, Tedros said. Countries and cities had achieved significant progress between 2010 and 2018. Brazil reported a decline in road fatalities of more than 40 percent since 2010. Similar progress had been reported from other countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Bogota in Colombia, Oslo in Norway, China, India, Thailand and Uganda.

“Political will is needed at the highest level of government to achieve this, both by investing and shifting to healthier modes of transportation,” said Ghebreyesus.