Notes from the field: A week in Montevideo and Santiago

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FGR staff members helping a visitor at the CRS check point to install a child seat in her car
FGR staff members helping a visitor at the CRS check point to install a child seat in her car
With the FGR team in Montevideo
With the FGR team in Montevideo
Meeting with representatives of the National Traffic Police
Meeting with representatives of the National Traffic Police
FGR staff members and a representative of the National traffic Police at the CRS check point
FGR staff members and a representative of the National traffic Police at the CRS check point
Monalisa Adhikari meeting with UNASEV representatives
Monalisa Adhikari meeting with UNASEV representatives

The FIA Foundation supports the work of road traffic NGO Fundación Gonzalo Rodríguez, in cooperation with several FIA automobile clubs, in South America. In this blog our Programmes Coordinator, Monalisa Adhikari (front row, second from left, above) describes her recent visit to two projects in Uruguay and Chile.

“It took us five years to have my first child and maybe that’s why I am overtly cautious about my children’s safety… We went to a toyshop to buy our first child seat.. We asked many questions about process of installation, safety standards etc but received very few answers as they were trained on the use of car seats. Then we tried to install the seat in the car ourselves but it was impossible to fit. We had heard of Fundación Gonzalo Rodríguez (FGR)’s campaigns on children’s safety and phoned them to for advice. They were really helpful and booked an appointment to have our new seat installed at the CRS check-up point organised by the FGR at the Automobile Club of Uruguay. However, it turned out that the child seat was not adaptable to our car. The recommendation we got was to have it changed. In the interim, the FGR lent us one child seat suitable for our vehicle. Today we came to have our new CRS installed.”

This was Andrea, a woman in her 30s, one of the visitors I met at the Child Restraint System (CRS) check-up point, a weekly activity convened by the FGR, where their staff members help visitors with advice on correct installation of CRS. Andrea, like other visitors I met at the check-up point in Montevideo, Uruguay, had come to seek technical assistance on correct installation of child seats. Over the last seven years, the FIA Foundation’s support has enabled FGR, a Uruguay based non-profit, to become a pioneer in child road safety with specific expertise on CRS systems. While there is good evidence that child restraints are effective for reducing the risk of injury during a traffic collision amongst children, not all countries in the region have yet mandated its use. A study conducted by FGR and Fundacion MAPFRE in 2013 concluded that amongst the 18 countries studied in the Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) region, 2 countries had no specific regulations about the use of CRS, 10 countries had regulations that were too basic and only in three countries - Brazil, Costa Rica, and Puerto Rico - was regulation considered relatively adequate. The sustained partnership between the FIA Foundation and the FGR has contributed to advocacy efforts and helped implement a range of activities like campaigns, training, workshops, media mobilization, and has enabled FGR to forge effective partnerships with national and regional stakeholders to promote road safety. After a decade of campaigning, FGR has been successful in lobbying for mandatory use of CRS in vehicles and ensuring safety measures in school transportation.

The purpose of my visit to Montevideo and Santiago was to see first-hand the impact of the Foundation’s grant on the ground and to meet the people it is supporting and helping. But the visit also gave me a stronger understanding about the regional context, intra-regional similarities and differences, and complexities on issues of urban mobility and road safety. I learned that one of most profound impacts of the Foundation’s support has been on FGR’s ability to champion road safety to be a priority in the region. Concerns about road traffic injuries and fatalities and the need to act faster was echoed by all stakeholders I met in Uruguay and Chile. During my one week-long visit to Montevideo and Santiago, I also had the opportunity to meet with the Unidad Nacional de Seguridad Vial (UNASEV), the national road safety agency, and the National Traffic Police in Uruguay. In the meeting with UNASEV, the Executive Secretary-General, Pablo Inthamoussu, briefed that there has been a lot of progress on road safety since the agency was formed in 2007 and that FGR has helped them in putting road safety firmly on the national agenda. He confirmed that UNASEV was working on recommendations promoted by the UN Decade for Action for Road Safety, including data collection on the extent of RTIs and focusing on enforcement of traffic laws. In the area of post-crash care he mentioned that the challenges in Uruguay were around coordination between emergency services, the police and the road safety agencies, which were currently being addressed. The FIA Foundation has continuously advocated for setting up and strengthening national institutions to address road safety issues. Meeting UNASEV representatives and discussing their portfolio of achievements, in only eight years since its establishment, I am convinced that having a national institution to address road safety can really help set milestones in road safety performance.

The next day, on a chilly morning in Montevideo, I met with Mayor Osvaldo Molinari, the Director of the National Road Traffic Police Directorate and his team. The Directorate works under Ministry of Interior, and has a close partnership with FGR. The Traffic Police Directorate works on three strands of road safety: road safety education, enforcement of traffic legislation, and traffic engineering. There are currently changes undertaking with regards to the Traffic Police Directorate. From early 2016, the Directorate will also be patrolling all road networks, in addition to the current responsibility of traffic enforcement in highways, which will strengthening enforcement efforts in Uruguay. Inspector Ruben Fernández, who presented on behalf of the team at the National Traffic Police, also confirmed that working with FGR on road safety education and on promoting correct use of CRS, has helped them in reaching out more broadly to the public.

FIA Foundation’s grant making prioritises programme interventions tailored to the needs of specific contexts. Accordingly, FGR works to deliver road safety solutions successfully tested in Uruguay to other parts of Latin America where similar problems exist . After a few days in Uruguay, I joined Florencia and Mathias from the FGR team for a brief trip to Chile, where FGR has been working with different government and non-governmental partners to promote road safety. In Chile, we attended the “Traffic accidents: a multifactorial problem” conference in Valparaiso, Chile where the FGR team was invited to present on road safety solutions that have worked successfully in Uruguay by the Comisión Nacional de Seguridad de Tránsito (CONASET), a presidential advisory committee which aims to prevent traffic accidents and their consequences. The conference had participants from academia, civil society organisations, and representatives of different agencies working on road safety including participants from the Police Department in Chile. In the discussions at the conference, I heard participants talking about how Chile needed to learn from some of the measures practiced in Uruguay that has made children safer in vehicles, which was a testament to Uruguay’s successful performance on road safety in the region. After the conference, I met with Gabriela Rosende Bustos, the Executive Secretary of CONASET, who told me about that partnership with FGR and how their technical assistance has been crucial to CONASET. She also told me that CONASET is trying to bring about changes in legislations with regards to CRS, introduce speed cameras, and work on vehicle safety standards and safe infrastructure in Chile. However, Gabriela also mentioned that effective public transport remains a key agenda but road safety often is not a priority in Chile. It is an area where partnerships between organisations like CONASET and NGOs, like FGR, becomes critical.

In a bid to build capacity on child road safety the FIA Foundation, along with other funders like UPS Foundation, is funding the FGR to conduct the “Child Passenger Safety Programme for Latin America and the Caribbean” (CPSPLAC), through technicians certified by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) of the United States, and Safe Kids Worldwide. The FIA Foundation, in its current grant to the FGR, supports child road safety training in Colombia, Chile and Argentina. The trainings have been well attended by representatives of Ministry of Health, Ministry of Transport, National road safety agencies, police and civil society members, which reflects the demand in Latin American countries to learn and implement road safety solutions in the region. The training is hands on with a lot of demonstrations and practical tests and focused on international standards on child restraint systems, methods of installation, and different laws on CRS in the US, along with examples from the region.

The FIA Foundation, through its FIA Road Safety Grants Programme, seeks to help automobile clubs develop as effective champions delivering road safety initiatives worldwide. FGR’s work with the Automobile Club of Uruguay and the Automobile Club of Chile, for example, also reflects on the immense value the FIA Foundation puts on partnerships with the Clubs. In my visit to Santiago, I also had the opportunity to meet with Alberto Escobar Poblete, from the Automobile Club of Chile. Alberto discussed the club’s advocacy efforts for ensuring compliance of international vehicle standards while importing vehicles in Chile, and safeguarding bicyclists and pedestrian safety with safer road Designs. Both of these activities have helped in drawing attention to the need for sound policies on road safety in Chile. The Club works in close cooperation with Latin NCAP, iRAP (International Road Assessment programme), FGR and with government agencies in Chile, which further evinces the importance of partnerships for advocacy efforts.

Unlike other issues areas of international development, road safety traditionally has not been a priority and there are persistent challenges to ensuring that road safety is a recognised, as a priority, is invested on and worked for, in the region. This is despite the World Health Organization data showing that in the region of the Americas, road traffic injuries are the leading cause of death in children aged 5–14 and the second leading cause in the group aged 15–44. However, the work and commitment of all the people I’ve met on this trip: national lead agencies working on road safety, traffic police departments, civil society organisations like FGR and the automobile clubs; and the concern of members of the public; have shown that there is a real appetite to make roads safer in South America. With the advent of the Global Goals there’s a real opportunity to build on this energy.