A road safety agenda for 2018: Lord Robertson urges global parliamentary action

Main Image

Writing for the Parliamentary Network on the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, Rt. Hon. Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, Chairman of the FIA Foundation and a member of the UK Parliament, urges legislators across the world to support a new global fund for road safety and the #EveryLife campaign to protect the human rights of children as they use the world’s roads.

“We are at a time of transition for global road safety. The world’s leading cause of death for young people between 15 and 29 years is finally recognised as a global development issue, with a stand-alone target in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. But this ambitious objective - to halve the number of global deaths and injuries from road traffic crashes - requires far greater action, backed up by unprecedented financing in the form of a new targeted UN fund. Only with serious political commitment will we end the appalling daily carnage on the world’s roads.

Over 1.2 million people are killed – 3,500 every day. Fifty million are injured each year. Road users in low and middle income countries are disproportionately affected: 90% of all road traffic fatalities occur in developing countries. And those in poverty are not only more likely to be injured or killed, but also to remain or even be forced further into poverty because of the injury. The estimated cost of road traffic injuries is a $1.85 trillion burden on the global economy each year, according to the 2015 intergovernmental ‘Brasilia Declaration’, which set an agenda for action to meet the global target.

We have the tools to confront this human tragedy. We know the systems and policies which work in road traffic injury prevention. There has been progress. Bloomberg Philanthropies estimates that, through its support for global road safety since 2011, more than 1.8 billion people have been covered by strengthened road safety laws and 65 million people have seen new media campaigns promoting road safety. Those countries – like Vietnam - that have set targets, allocated resources, implemented legislation and had the political drive to sustain efforts over many years are seeing a health dividend.

The philanthropic programme of the FIA Foundation, which I chair, has also helped to improve the way countries build and design their roads and vehicles. Through independent vehicle crash testing, the Global New Car Assessment Programme is forcing a revolution in car safety. The International Road Assessment Programme (iRAP) publishes star ratings for highway safety in more than 70 countries and works with governments and development banks to improve design - at least 16,000 deaths and serious injuries were prevented through its work in 2016. These programmes have catalysed positive action in developing countries, with safety improvements resulting from the combined pressure of legislative and consumer demands.

To accelerate and expand this progress, however, will require significant new catalytic funding. This is why the establishment of a new UN Road Safety Trust Fund, to support and enable road safety implementation at national level, to unlock new national resources or redirect existing spending more effectively, is so vital. The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe has calculated that, over a decade, an annual fund of US $770 million could leverage the investment needed. Every $100 million contributed to the Fund would support the leveraging of $3.4 billion of road safety investment, equating to the saving of 64,000 lives and the averting of 640,000 serious injuries. This is surely a prize worth working for.

The FIA Foundation has long been at the forefront of efforts to raise road safety up the global policy agenda. Now, working in partnership with UN Special Envoy for Road Safety Jean Todt, the World Health Organization, a strong global alliance of NGOs and many other partners, we are making the case for a UN Global Fund for road safety. This objective came closer in 2016 when the UN General Assembly endorsed preparatory steps.

Through the FIA High Level Panel for Road Safety, which we are supporting, global business CEOs and public policy leaders are coming together to advocate for the Fund and to begin to identify potential funding sources for it. This effort is buttressed by the FIA’s #3500LIVES campaign, supported by a roster of sport, movie and music stars and appearing – courtesy of advertising giant JC Decaux – in major cities across the world. Our new #EveryLife campaign, which is supported by UNICEF, Save the Children and others, is also highlighting the critical impact of road traffic injury on children and demanding action.

So what can parliamentarians do to support this effort? Last year I helped to launch a new Global Network of Road Safety Legislators, to provide a caucus for parliamentarians to advocate for a stronger response to the road traffic injury epidemic. Legislators are encouraged to sign on to a global manifesto. One of its practical objectives is to encourage adoption of laws on behavioural and protective risk factors with a view towards increasing the number of countries with comprehensive laws from 15% to 50% by 2020. But the Global Network, and all parliamentarians, can also provide a strong voice in favour of a new UN Road Safety Fund and encourage governments to endorse it.

There has never been a stronger international mandate for action on road safety. We must not let this opportunity go to waste. As parliamentarians we have a duty to our own constituents – and to citizens everywhere in the world – to urge and to lead action.

We are living in a time of huge technological advances, achievements in public health, and global co-operation. Yet if present trends continue, twice as many people could die on roads in this century as died in the armed conflicts that ravaged the 20th century. This is not acceptable, and it cannot come to pass. It is time to ask ourselves not if we can afford to endorse and establish a Global Road Safety Fund, but how we can possibly afford not to.”