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Commission for Global Road Safety
  • Date submitted: 28 Oct 2011
  • Stakeholder type: Major Group
  • Submission Document: Download
  • Additional Document:

Safer Roads at Rio+ 20

A submission to the UN Conference on Sustainable Development


Road traffic crashes kill an estimated 1.3 million people a year and injure between 20-50 million more. More than ninety per cent of casualties occur in middle-income and low-income countries; The United Nations has launched the ?Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020?, describing road injury as "major public health problem with a broad range of social and economic consequences which, if unaddressed, may affect the sustainable development of countries and hinder progress towards the Millennium Development Goals";

There is growing recognition that improving road safety can also contribute to achieving the MDGs, particularly in relation to child mortality, access to healthcare (on safe roads), and universal access to education (a million children are killed or seriously injured each year in road crashes, the majority as pedestrians). Unicef has urged that action to prevent injuries in the second decade of a child?s life should become ?a major international health objective?;

Addressing road safety will also help to achieve environmental objectives, including action on climate change, particularly through providing a safer road system for users of non-motorised transport, such as pedestrians and cyclists, the most vulnerable road users. Providing safe facilities for non-motorised transport, and encouraging affordable and safe public transport, can reduce demand for modal shift to the car. According to the UN Environment Programme, such policies can make ?a large, lasting impact?on fuel use, congestion, air quality and CO2 emissions? It is also one of the most cost-effective actions for saving hundreds of thousands of lives?;

Many developing country governments, and large institutions like the World Bank, are beginning to recognise the need to prioritise road safety in the context of a sustainable transport system. But progress is slow. The gap between an institution acknowledging the issue and achieving sustained action can be bridged if road safety is included within the framework of a major international sustainability conference;

The priorities agreed at international fora like Rio+20 set the global agenda and issues that are absent from the agenda are subsequently neglected and under-funded. This is why it is so important that action to improve road safety and promote sustainable modes of transport is included in the agenda and outcomes of the Rio+20 Conference.

Safer Roads at Rio + 20

1. The Commission for Global Road Safety is an independent body under the Chairmanship of Lord Robertson of Port Ellen and patronage of HRH Prince Michael of Kent. It was established in 2006 by the FIA Foundation (a UK registered charity) to promote action to reverse the rising tide of road traffic injury and fatality in developing countries. Its ?Make Roads Safe? reports published in 2006 and 2009 called for the first ever global Ministerial Conference, which was subsequently held in Moscow in November 2009, and proposed that the UN mandate a Decade of Action for Road Safety, a proposal which was subsequently approved by the UN General Assembly in March 2010. Amongst the recommendations in the Commission?s third ?Make Roads Safe? report, published in 2011, we call on the international community to recognise road traffic injuries as a sustainability challenge in the context of the Rio+20 Conference and discussions on a post-Millennium Development Goals framework.

2. We welcome Rio+20 as an important opportunity to identify the major sustainability challenges facing the world and to contribute to the design of a post-MDG framework that will meet the needs of developing nations in the second and third decades of the 21st Century. We strongly believe that global road traffic death and injury, and the wider but related issue of safe and sustainable transportation policy, must be recognised as sustainability challenges at the Rio+20 Conference. We urge and encourage the secretariat, member nations and participants to include reference to safe and sustainable road mobility in the ?Outcomes Document? of the Conference.

3. Road safety is perhaps not one of the more obvious subjects for consideration at Rio. Yet the absence of road safety from the agenda of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, and the consequent neglect of the issue in international development fora, has arguably contributed to the growing toll of death and disability on the world?s roads. According to the World Health Organization road crashes kill an estimated 1,300,000 people each year and injure between 20 - 50 million more. The vast majority ? more than ninety per cent - of these casualties are occurring in middle-income and low-income countries where road safety awareness and the capacity to tackle the problem is low, and where both traffic levels and road casualties are rising rapidly (Global Status Report on Road Safety, WHO, 2009).

4. Despite the absence of road safety from the mainstream sustainable development agenda there is now a global mandate for action to reduce global road traffic injuries. UN General Assembly Resolution A/RES/64/255 has established the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020 with a goal to ?stabilise and reduce? road deaths by 2020. Our Commission estimates that if this ambitious goal can be achieved up to 5 million lives and 50 million serious injuries could be prevented over the course of the Decade (?Make Roads Safe: A Decade of Action for Road Safety?, Commission for Global Road Safety, 2009).

5. In its Resolution proclaiming the Decade of Action for Road Safety, the United Nations General Assembly described road traffic injuries as a "major public health problem with a broad range of social and economic consequences which, if unaddressed, may affect the sustainable development of countries and hinder progress towards the Millennium Development Goals". According to leading development experts and international agencies, the impacts of failure to address road safety can go beyond the immediate toll of death and disability to undermine policies on poverty alleviation, child survival and development, and climate change.

6. For example, the Special Adviser to the United Nations on the Millennium Development Goals, Professor Jeffrey Sachs, has recently described road crashes as ?a crucial part of the overall effort? to improve the environment and quality of life in developing countries. In an interview conducted for our Make Roads Safe campaign, Prof. Sachs explained that, in his view, ?the Millennium Development Goals are a broad framework and road safety has to be part of that. When there is so much death, when there is so much injury, when there is so much of a burden on poor communities, alleviating that is part of the overall strategy of fighting poverty, fighting the deaths of children, helping communities to be safe. And so this is part of the Millennium Development Goal effort? (www.makeroadssafe.org).

7. In a report for our Commission, Dr Kevin Watkins, a former development adviser to Oxfam, the UN Development Programme and UNESCO, estimates that, based on a simple calculation of the relationship between GDP growth and poverty reduction, the economic costs associated with road traffic crashes (at least US$100 billion a year in for developing countries) are keeping between 12 ? 72 million people in poverty. Dr Watkins describes road crashes as ?holding back progress towards the international development targets on a global scale?, citing the impact of road injuries on children ? 260,000 of whom are killed and at least 1 million seriously injured each year - and the burden on health services of dealing with road traffic injuries as having a serious impact on delivery of MDG goals 2, for universal primary education, and 4, 5 & , covering child and maternal mortality and public health (The Missing Link: Road Traffic Injuries & the Millennium Development Goals, Watkins, K; 2010).

8. Dr. Watkins? analysis is echoed in the 2011 ?State of the World?s Children? report from the UN Children?s Fund. In the report, which focuses on adolescence, Unicef argues that older children have been neglected as a health priority. ?Lasting change in the lives of children and young people?can only be achieved and sustained by complementing investment in the first decade of life with greater attention and resources applied in the second?, the report concludes. Injury, and in particular road injury, is identified as an area that needs to be addressed. ?Injuries are a growing concern in public health in relation to younger children and adolescents alike. They are the leading cause of death among adolescents aged 10-19?many of these deaths are related to road traffic accidents?, the authors acknowledge. ?Fatalities from injuries among adolescents are highest among the poor?(B)ecause the rate of urbanisation is most rapid in the poorest regions of sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia ? which are also the areas with the greatest share of adolescents in the population ? averting injuries in the second decade of life must become a major international health objective? (State of the World?s Children Report 2011, Unicef).

9. Importantly, in the context of Rio+20, there is growing evidence and recognition that addressing road safety will also help to achieve environmental objectives. In urban areas managing vehicle speed to provide safe and accessible streets for non-motorised transport users, combined with road design measures that protect and encourage walking and cycling (such as pavements, safe crossing points and bicycle lanes), will both reduce casualties amongst ?vulnerable road users? and support greener modes of transport, reducing modal shift to motorised vehicles. Dr Watkins, the author of a major 2008 ?Human Development Report? on climate change for the UNDP, also highlights that transport policy ?can play a central role in combating climate change not just by creating fuel-efficiency incentives and supporting the development of low carbon fuels, but also by supporting the development of safe public transport and creating the conditions for safe non-motorised transport. When safe sidewalks and cycle lanes are available, people are far more likely to undertake trips by walking or cycling?, (The Missing Link: Road Traffic Injuries & the Millennium Development Goals, Watkins, K; 2010).

10. The UN Environment Programme is also urging a change in emphasis in transport planning in developing nations to support and protect non-motorised mobility and to encourage safe and affordable public transport (low income families in developing countries can currently spend up to 25% of their income on public transport), citing the benefits for a range of environmental objectives. UNEP points out that ?cities with a better modal mix between cars, public transport, walking and cycling have lower energy use per capita. By incorporating non-motorised transport facilities in the transport grid, a large, lasting impact can be made on fuel use, congestion, air quality and CO2 emissions?. Furthermore, UNEP argues that ?designating road space for pedestrians and cyclists in proportion to the demand for non-motorised transport is crucial. It is also one of the most cost-effective actions for saving hundreds of thousands of lives. For example, the top two countermeasures for improving safety in Nairobi, Kenya, recommended by the International Road Assessment Programme (iRAP) are pedestrian crossings and sidewalks?, (?Share the Road: Invest in Walking & Cycling?, UN Environment Programme and FIA Foundation, 2011).

11. Despite the projections of significant increases in car use ? with global vehicle ownership doubling in the next ten years, entirely in developing countries - the majority of people in low-income countries or in the significant low-income segments of the population in middle-income countries are unlikely to ever own a car. Yet it is these people who are overwhelmingly affected by road traffic crashes and other consequences of road traffic, including poor air quality (which is estimated to contribute to 800,000 deaths a year). Designing safe transportation, urban planning and land use policies that meet the commuting, social and healthcare needs of this ?green majority? is a pre-requisite for building the ?green economy? of the future and for achieving social justice.

12. This is also increasingly recognised by the World Bank, the largest development agency making transportation loans to developing countries. In its current transport strategy (Safe, Clean, Affordable?transport for development, World Bank, 2008) the Bank highlights the importance of transport policy for achieving many of the Millennium Development Goals, and warns that in ?a world with rising levels of greenhouse gases, poor road safety, and the all too frequent spread of communicable diseases along international routes, transport must be looked at anew?. In particular, the World Bank warns that neglect of road safety must end, urging that ?safety can be made integral to the design and management of the road transport system, just as it is in the management of other transport modes, aviation in particular. However, this concept is not yet accepted in many countries, despite the high economic and human costs of road crashes?.

13. Yet it is a concept that is only now beginning to be adopted in the World Bank?s own country programmes, and the loans of other multilateral development banks (MDBs). Road projects worth hundreds of millions of dollars are still being approved and implemented with totally inadequate safeguard policies relating to injury prevention. Road safety measures are often presented to client countries as an additional project cost, overlooking the long term benefits and financial returns on investment that will flow from reduced levels of road injury. By treating road safety as a ?luxury upgrade? rather than a core ingredient, client countries are discouraged from opting for safe road design.

14. In our 2006 report our Commission highlighted these failings and called on the World Bank to establish a joint taskforce to mainstream road safety assessment into their road infrastructure investments. In response the World Bank?s Global Road Safety Facility did establish such a working group and together with the other MDBs agreed a Joint Statement on ?A Shared Approach to Managing Road Safety? just prior to the First Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety, hosted by the Russian Federation in Moscow in 2009. The Joint Statement commits the MDBs to ?ensure that safety is integrated in all phases of planning, design, construction, appraisal, operation and maintenance of road infrastructure?particularly to improve safe access and protection for vulnerable road users who represent a significant proportion of the people served by the projects we finance?. Launching the MDB?s Road Safety Initiative, in April 2011, World Bank President Robert Zoellick warned that ?unless well-targeted measures are taken, there will be an escalating death toll on the roads in poor countries, which would be a terrible tragedy?.

15. The Rio+20 Conference can play a critical role in encouraging such action. As we have shown above, there is now a wide recognition that road traffic injuries are a public health and sustainable development challenge that needs to be addressed, and that doing so will benefit the wider agendas of tackling climate change and working towards the Millennium Development Goals. Yet, despite this growing consensus, road safety and wider issues of sustainable mobility remain on the margins of public policy, lacking vocal advocates within government aid agencies and major institutions and consequently denied the resources needed to assist developing nations to improve their institutional capacity, skills and policies.

16. It is our view that this gap between the growing acknowledgement of the issue and achieving sustained action can be bridged if, for the first time, road safety is included within the framework of a major international sustainability conference. Identifying road traffic injury as a new challenge at the Rio+20 Conference will be invaluable in raising the profile of the issue and helping to institutionalise road safety programmes within middle-income and low-income governments and organisations like the World Bank. As we have seen in the powerful response to climate change and environmental protection following the first Rio summit in 1992, and in the united focus on achieving the Millennium Development Goals that was the major outcome of the Johannesburg Summit in 2002, the priorities agreed at these international fora do set the global agenda and issues that are absent from the agenda are subsequently neglected and under-funded.

17. Until road safety can be integrated into the mainstream of sustainability policy, millions of people will be condemned to unnecessary and preventable violent, painful deaths, or lives blighted by severe disability. This is why it is so important that action to improve road safety and promote sustainable modes of transport is included in the agenda and outcomes of the Rio+20 Conference.
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