Political Leadership, Funding Critical for Reducing Vehicle Fatalities, Speakers Stress, as General Assembly Concludes Global Road Safety High-Level Meeting
Political leadership, along with sustainable financing from the international community, are needed to create safer roads, save lives and help achieve Sustainable Development Goal 3 (Good Health and Well-Being), General Assembly delegates agreed during the conclusion of a two-day high-level meeting on global road safety, in which 80 delegations participated and three multi-stakeholder panels were held.
General Assembly President Abdulla Shahid (Maldives) said the milestone political declaration adopted on Thursday highlights the shared responsibility of all stakeholders at all levels and recognizes the primary responsibility governments hold for improving road safety.
In his closing remarks he stressed: “We resolved to strengthen political will and promote cooperation with all stakeholders, as we strive to implement a comprehensive approach to road safety, one based on science, evidence and best practices, and that addresses risk factors that undermine road safety.”
Referring to the Global Plan for the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2021-2030, he said the document’s broad set of actions must be adapted to meet the needs of local communities. “They should prioritize the safety of especially vulnerable road users, such as pedestrians and bicyclists,” he added.
Nicaragua’s delegate said his Government has been increasing road construction throughout the country, rapidly reaching 6,000 kilometres, when before 2007 there were about 2,000 kilometres of road in the country and only 600 kilometres were in good condition. This ensures highways and roads reach the most vulnerable and those in farthest-flung places, so that transportation and access, as well as energy and electricity, benefit all.
The representative of Zimbabwe reported that his country is one of many that have missed the Sustainable Development Goal to halve road traffic deaths and injuries from road traffic accidents, pointing out that the situation is more acute in developing countries. Due to climate change, increased incidences of cyclones and floods have damaged transport infrastructure and routes. Roads are considered key economic enablers in attaining the Government’s vision of becoming an upper-middle-income society. However, sanctions by some Western countries remain an albatross to achieve road safety targets, he pointed out, calling for them to be lifted.
The delegate of Sri Lanka said road safety is both a global public health issue and an economic issue, causing unnecessary burdens and tragic consequences to families, communities and economies. Fatal and non-fatal road accident injuries are estimated to cost the world economy from 2015-2030 about $1.8 trillion (in 2010 U.S. dollars). The main challenge facing developing countries is the need for financing. He estimated that Sri Lanka will need nearly $2 billion over the coming decade to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal 3.6 target, which is a 50 per cent reduction in national road crash fatalities by 2030.
The observer for the Sovereign Order of Malta said that when ambulances are called, it is often the site of a road traffic accident, adding that 200,000 people die each year when their lives could have been saved if somebody close to them had known first aid. However, Member States did not include a requirement that all learner drivers take up cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and first aid training in the political declaration approved on Thursday. He called on the international community to review that mandate and he urged Governments to play a more direct role in requiring their citizens to be familiar with simple first aid measures that can, and will, save lives.
Dr. Etienne Krug, Director of the Department for Social Determinants of Health at the World Health Organization, presented a summary of the three multi-stakeholder panels held earlier in Friday’s session. Suggestions on the steps needed to address unsafe and unsustainable transportation systems were made, along with suggestions and concrete examples of the actions underway in many countries and cities around the world regarding leadership, financing, prevention programmes, and the strengthening of trauma care systems. Many participants made commitments to implement solutions that are known to work, while non-governmental organizations and the private sector demonstrated their eagerness to contribute to the efforts of global, national and local communities.
“If we are to achieve that decrease, we have to change, do things better, and with more intensity,” he stressed, urging participants to talk with their Heads of States and Governments. He also urged participants to talk to their ministers for finance as well and underlined the need for funding from both the international community and, in larger part, from national budgets. Road safety interventions are ranked among the most cost-effective interventions that can be done for public health, he emphasized, adding: "They are worth the investment.”
Sustainable Development Goal 3 (Good Health and Well-Being) and Target 3.6 of this goal are focused on road traffic injuries and aim to halve the number of global deaths and injuries from road traffic accidents by 2030.
Today’s session included three multi-stakeholder panels. The first, “Incorporating road safety into sustainable development: political will and whole-of-government approach,” zeroed in on global road safety. The panel aimed to lay out the key elements of effective leadership in road safety; to share the road safety experience of leaders in different sectors and at different levels of Government; consider ways to build a cadre of effective leaders for road safety; and identify key priorities for the next decade. The panel was co-chaired by Zsuzanna Horváth (Hungary) and Gbolié Desire Wulfran Ipo (Cote d’Ivoire) and included a keynote statement by Audley Shaw, the Minister of Transport and former Minister of Finance of Jamaica.
The morning’s second panel, “Mobilizing all stakeholders to accelerate the implementation of the Global Plan and achieve the 50 per cent reduction,” aimed to illustrate the achievements in road safety brought about by international collaboration across the sectors. The panel also Identified the broader range of partners needed to accelerate progress on evidence-based road safety policies and programmes; define how a greater level of commitment and investment would help achieve the global goals and identify the key priorities for the upcoming decade. The panel was co-chaired by Tomas Enroth, Minister of Infrastructure of Sweden and Benaceur Boulaajoul, the Director-General of the National Road Safety Agency of Morocco. Rochelle Sobel, President of the Association for Safe International Road Travel, in the United States, delivered the keynote address.
The afternoon panel focused on financing, “Sustained domestic investments and international financing for capacity-building and development assistance in evidence-based road safety interventions.” The panel highlighted examples of how present investments in transport systems successfully include a road safety component; how different global goal areas can co-operate for mutual benefits; and laid out various financing options for creating safe and sustainable transport systems in the future. It also identified key priorities for the upcoming decade.
The panel was chaired by Saul Castelar, Vice Minister of Transport of El Salvador and the keynote address was delivered by Francois Bausch, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Defence and Minister for Mobility and Public Works of Luxembourg.
Also speaking today were delegates from Japan, Belarus, Guatemala, Côte d'Ivoire, Bangladesh, Colombia and Bolivia.
An observer for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) also spoke.
MAGOSAKI KAORU (Japan) said the world is witnessing a catastrophic rate of road crashes. Traffic accidents are the main cause of death among children and young people, he said, adding: “this is not something we can remain silent about or fail to take action on.” He called for a global goal to reduce road fatalities and injuries by at least 50 per cent by 2030. Japan provides both hard and soft assistance to countries in Asia and Africa — hard assistance in the form of efforts to improve intersections and road safety equipment, and soft assistance in road safety education. The country works on human-centred initiatives, including capacity-building and awareness-raising, as well as advanced safety measures for vehicles and people-friendly traffic environments. Japan’s initiatives at home have reduced traffic fatalities by 16 per cent since 1971. The country is now advancing state-of-the-art technologies, including automated driving and building pedestrian-friend sidewalks around schools and residential communities, he said.
JASSER JIMÉNEZ (Nicaragua) said his country’s efforts aim to ensure that highways and roads reach the most vulnerable and those in farthest-flung places, so that transportation and access, as well as energy and electricity, benefit all. For those reasons, it is paying increasing attention to road safety and ensuring the lives of drivers, passengers, and others using the road. His Government continues to increase road construction throughout the country, rapidly reaching 6,000 kilometres, when before 2007 there were about 2,000 kilometres of road in the country and only 600 kilometres were in good condition. According to the Global Competitiveness Index of the World Economic Forum, Nicaragua tops the list of Central American countries with the best roads and is among the five countries in Latin America and the Caribbean with the best and safest roads. To implement the Global Plan, increased global political commitment and sustainable financing are needed. Moreover, all illegal unilateral coercive measures currently imposed on numerous countries must cease, as they force those countries to use resources which should be for sustainable development.
ALENA KAVALEUSKAYA (Belarus) said she regretted that some delegations have politicized the intergovernmental negotiations on the final document of today’s high-level meeting. The document is very important for developing countries to implement the Global Plan for the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2021-2030 and she welcomed the multilateral efforts to develop traffic safety standards. Tackling road safety is a main priority of her Government and it is carrying out a package of measures to increase road safety and reduce the number of deaths on the road. In 2021, the mortality rate per 100,000 residents decreased by 5.6 per cent. Belarus is working in line with international road safety standards, she added. However, the sanctions against Belarus have impeded it from meeting some standards. It is unacceptable to apply any sanctions on road safety, she stressed.
MOHAN PIERIS (Sri Lanka) said road safety is both a global public health issue and an economic issue, causing unnecessary burdens and tragic consequences to families, communities and economies. Fatal and nonfatal road accident injuries are estimated to cost the world economy from 2015–2030 about $1.8 trillion (in 2010 U.S. dollars). The Sri Lankan Government is actively dealing with the greater number of road accidents, injuries and fatalities in the country. A recent World Bank report points out that road crash fatalities and injuries could cost countries like Sri Lanka between 3 per cent to 5 per cent of their gross domestic product each year. The Sri Lankan Government has taken steps to strengthen road safety, including creating the National Council for Road Safety to create a secure road system for all road users. Transportation-related safety efforts and programs, such as Road Friends, have been launched for safer vehicles, safer users and safer roads. Existing laws have been revised to strengthen them, speed limits are being strictly imposed, current traffic fines have been increased and mandatory seat belt and helmet laws were implemented. The main challenge facing developing countries is the need for financing. He estimated that Sri Lanka will need nearly $2 billion over the coming decade to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal 3.6 target of a 50 per cent reduction in national road crash fatalities.
OMAR CASTAÑEDA SOLARES (Guatemala), expressing deep concern about the devastating effects of climate change, said that less than a year after storms Eta and Iota, the hurricane season is once again pummelling his country, leading to numerous losses in road infrastructure, trade routes and Guatemalan families’ lives and livelihoods. Thus, it was critical to develop solid and transparent policies, as well as invest in climate adaptation and resilience, implementation and design of modern roads, and public awareness campaigns. The Ministry of Communications, Infrastructure and Housing increased Guatemala’s road network by 131.37 kilometres in 2020. In addition, more than 333 kilometres of rural roads have been improved. His country has also taken steps towards attracting investment and legal certainty in the country, advancing the implementation of projects with public-private partnerships for the improvement, construction, and maintenance of roads and complementary works. At the regional level, best practices should be continued. The Ibero-American Road Safety Program, approved at the twenty-sixth Ibero-American Summit of Heads of State and Government held in Guatemala in 2018, was developed by member countries to promote safe mobility and reduce injuries, disabilities and deaths due to traffic accidents.
KOUADJO MICHEL KOUAKOU (Côte d'Ivoire) said that his Government has established an information system on road traffic accidents and instituted a harmonized road safety management framework. It has also established a national road safety commission and a strategic plan for the period 2021-2025 to improve the safety of public transport and transport of goods, and to strengthen care for victims of accidents. Following an awareness campaign, his country launched video ticketing with the intelligent transport system in September, allowing short message service notification to motorists of their offenses. It has also set up a road maintenance fund to ensure the financing of services related to studies and periodic maintenance of the road network. He called for stronger international cooperation in the field of road safety, through the sharing of good practices, capacity-building and financial support to States, especially developing countries.
MD MONWAR HOSSAIN (Bangladesh) said every year, 1.3 million lives are lost on the road — 3,600 per day — not only impacting lives but costing affected nations around 3 to 5 per cent of their annual GDP. Noting that Bangladesh created the first-ever dedicated road safety project in South Asia, he said awareness raising is central to their efforts, including integrated communication and advocacy strategies, and an enhanced focus on correcting harmful practices such as speeding and driving under the influence of alcohol. Road safety is also a public health crisis, he stressed, noting initiatives like the correction of vision impairment can reduce accidents by up to 22 per cent in certain low-income settings. Recalling that Bangladesh facilitated the adoption of the first ever United Nations resolution on vision care in 2021, along with Antigua and Barbuda and Ireland, he called for targets support for developing and least developed countries to build sustainable and safe transportation ecosystems. As most road accidents are avoidable, he said “let us join hands to achieve the United Nations goal of reducing traffic deaths by 50 per cent by 2030.”
PETRONELLAR NYAGURA (Zimbabwe) said that his country is one of many that have missed the Sustainable Development Goal to halve the number of deaths and injuries from road traffic accident. Indeed, the situation is more acute in developing countries. The impact of climate change has increased incidences of cyclones and floods which have extensively damaged transport infrastructure and routes, he said, noting that climate adaptation, mitigation and resilience building remains a challenge for Zimbabwe. Roads are considered key economic enablers in attaining his Government’s vision of becoming an upper-middle income society. The Zimbabwe Road Safety Performance Review report noted that a traffic crash occurs every 15 minutes, resulting in over 35,000 crashes annually, with an average of at least 5 people killed every day and 1,800 people killed every year. His country is working on their national road safety management system and has embarked on a major road refurbishment programme, along with the construction of bridges. He also pointed out that illegal unilateral coercive measures imposed by some Western countries remain an albatross to achieve road safety targets, calling on those countries to lift sanctions imposed on his country.
SONIA PEREIRA PORTILLA (Colombia) said her Government adopted a national road safety plan for 2022-2031 based on five fundamental points for the improvement of global road safety. They include the innovation in public management, aimed at promoting agreements around road safety, with a multi-stakeholder approach; implementation of the safe system approach, with zero tolerance for the loss of lives on the road; recognition of shared responsibility as a basic principle to generate social agreements among stakeholders; recognition of the specificities of each country within the overall public policy on road safety; and monitoring of the country's progress in road safety. Moreover, it has set ambitious objectives and clear goals, among them, to reduce the number of deaths and injuries caused by road accidents by 50 per cent by 2030. Its plan promotes the adoption of the safe system approach, with a special focus on women, youth, children, the elderly and people with disabilities.
CARLOS IVAN ZAMBRANA FLORES (Bolivia) said in the last 15 years, eight times more roads were built in the country than in the previous 180 years. This massive deployment of infrastructure helped integrate and develop the country, especially in the rural areas. Yet the challenges on road safety have also increased. While the rate of traffic fatalities increased along with the recent economic expansion, that figure dropped by 20 per cent in recent years. This decrease is largely a result of Bolivia’s National Road Safety Plan, based on the recommendations established in the Global Plan agreed upon during this forum. Today, Bolivia maintains and expands the policies that have been effective, including compulsory insurance to care for traffic accident victims, continuous improvement of its road network and expanding multimodal and alternative transportation systems, such as the iconic, cabled mass transit network in the city of La Paz.
DAVID CLIFF, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), noted that despite the achievements of the past two decades, road deaths and serious injuries have increased; a disproportionate percentage of those deaths and injuries are the young and the most vulnerable. To accelerate implementation of the Global Plan for road safety, there must be an improvement to serious crash investigation and data quality, particularly in low-and middle-income countries in order to understand the true costs, develop comprehensive strategies, and reduce these crashes and monitor progress. Further, better legislation must be enacted and enforced. Comprehensive road safety legislation focusing on the prevention of alcohol-impaired driving and excessive speed, and improving the use of seat belts, child restraints, and motorcycle helmets is an essential component of the ‘safe system’ approach. In addition, road policing must be improved. Many countries lack dedicated police agencies who are trained and equipped to improve road safety. In that regard, he noted that IFRC’s road safety partnership programme focuses on strengthening road policing capacity that provide police with the skills needed to make the world’s roads safer.
JAMES HARRISON GREENWOOD, an observer for the Sovereign Order of Malta, noted that it provides ambulance and associated first aid and critical care in 33 countries, working with partner organizations, including the Venerable Order of St. John, and the St. John Ambulance Service. When ambulances are called, it is often the site of a road traffic accident, he said, adding that 200,000 people die each year when their lives could have been saved if somebody close to them had known first aid. While Member States have heard that 1.35 million killed annually, and road accidents are a leading cause of death of children and young adults between ages 5 and 29, he affirmed “the actual numbers, we know, are probably much higher.” According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 50 per cent of fatalities happen only a few minutes after an accident occurs and sometimes well before emergency services arrive. He urged Member States to adopt the requirement that all learner drivers take up cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and first aid training. It is beyond disappointing that, following the new ‘zero’ draft resolution, the few paragraphs mentioning that requirement have been eliminated. Deploring that omission, he called on the international community to review that mandate. Ambulance services worldwide are often staffed by volunteers, working selflessly to provide an essential service. He urged Governments to play a more direct role in requiring their citizens be familiar with simple first aid measures that can and will save lives.
Summary of Panels
DR. ETIENNE KRUG, Director of the Department for Social Determinants of Health at WHO, presenting a summary of the three multi-stakeholder panels, said many suggestions were heard on what needs to be done to address unsafe and unsustainable transportation systems. Also heard were suggestions and concrete examples of what is happening today in many countries and cities around the world regarding leadership, financing, prevention programmes, and the strengthening of trauma care systems. Many participants made commitments to implement solutions that are known to work, while non-governmental organizations and the private sector demonstrated their keenness to contribute to the efforts of global, national and local communities.
The General Assembly’s first ever debate on road safety in 2004 has led to important achievements, he said, pointing to three ministerial conferences, the adoption of two targets in the Sustainable Development Goals, as well as the first and second declarations on road safety. Those achievements led to a plateau in road deaths despite the dramatic increase in the number of cars, drivers, and roads over that time. However, they have not led to the reduction in road deaths as had been hoped.
“If we are to achieve that decrease, we have to change, do things better, and with more intensity,” he stressed, urging participants to talk with their Heads of States and Governments and underscoring the importance of top-level political leadership. He also called on them to talk to their ministers for finance, underlining the need for funding from both the international community and, in larger part, from national budgets. Further, he highlighted that road safety interventions are ranked among the most cost-effective interventions that can be done for public health. "They are worth the investment,” he emphasized.
Recalling the 50 per cent target set forth in the Declaration just adopted, he said that target will only be achieved if every country identifies what its contribution will be; develops a plan on how to achieve it, with clear roles for every sector in society; and ensures availability of funding to implement the plan. The Declaration also calls for the appointment of focal persons to work with WHO, he said, spotlighting its ambition to create a network of focal points from each country. WHO would bring together annually that network, ideally composed of heads of safety agencies, to share best practices and ensure that the Declaration is put into practice, he said.