The first ever UN High-Level Meeting on Road Safety convened in the summer of 2022, bringing together Heads of State, Ministers, the UN Permanent Missions and global road safety champions to define the priorities in the years to 2030.
The meeting shows how seriously the topic is being taken. But that isn’t surprising. Road-traffic crashes claim nearly 1.3 million lives every year and are the leading cause of death among children and young adults.
In addition to the human suffering they cause, they also place a heavy economic burden on victims and their families, both through treatment costs for the injured and through loss of productivity of those killed or disabled. Significantly, they also have a serious impact on national economies, costing countries 3% of their annual gross domestic product.
The participants discussed all these issues and then presented a ‘Political Declaration’ – a manifesto for what needs to happen. Here, we pick out 8 key points from the document:
It’s an urgent priority
The world needs to recognise that road safety is an urgent development priority, a major public health problem and a social equity issue. The latter is particularly key in low- and middle-income countries where more than 90 per cent of road traffic deaths and injuries occur as a result of rising traffic, rapid infrastructure expansion and diverse traffic mix, among other things.
There’s no one-size fits all solution
Each country has its own needs, different national realities, capacities, policies and priorities. Stronger international cooperation will be needed to raise awareness and address road safety issues. The sharing of best practice and effective implementation strategies, plus the provision of relevant technical support will be needed to achieve of all road safety-related Sustainable Development Goals.
National targets are required
We need national targets to reduce fatalities and serious injuries for all road users. But, special attention needs to be given to the safety needs of those road users who are the most vulnerable to road-related crashes, including pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists and users of public transport.
A ‘Safe System’ approach is needed
This means policies that encourage safe urban and rural road infrastructure design and engineering; set safe adequate speed limits supported by appropriate speed management measures; establish an optimal mix of motorised and non-motorised transport, with a particular emphasis on public transport, walking and cycling, especially in urban areas.
Identify the key risk factors
The meeting called for the adoption of evidence-based practices for addressing the main risk factors. These include the non-use of seat belts, child restraints and helmets; medical conditions and medicines that affect safe driving; and driving under the influence of alcohol, narcotic drugs and psychotropic/psychoactive substances. Also, inappropriate use of mobile phones and other electronic devices including texting while driving, speeding, driving in low visibility conditions and driver fatigue.
Technology should be used where possible
Governments are asked to promote the development, knowledge sharing and deployment of vehicle automation and new technologies in traffic management to improve all aspects of road safety while also monitoring, assessing, managing and mitigating the challenges associated with rapid technological change and increasing connectivity.
It’s on governments, but…
Addressing road safety is primarily a responsibility of governments, says the declaration, but it also recognises the shared responsibility among relevant stakeholders, such as public and private sectors, academia, professional organisations, non-governmental organisations, citizens and the media, to move towards a world free from road traffic fatalities and serious injuries.
What’s the role of organisations?
Importantly, an instruction was issued to improve the working conditions of professional drivers, particularly commercial vehicle drivers. This includes pursuing the implementation of high standards on safety and health at work, road safety and adequate vehicle condition. Organisations are also asked to deliver evidence-based road safety knowledge and awareness programmes to promote a culture of safety among all road users and to address high-risk behaviours, especially among younger drivers, and the broader road-using community through advocacy, training and education.
Road safety isn’t a new topic within the corridors of power at the United Nations and WHO. The First Decade of Action for Road Safety started in 2011, and we are now well into the Second Decade. Over the past 11 years, there have been many resolutions, many SDGs, plenty of targets and many, many meetings.
Clearly, there is no easy fix as road safety crosses paths with the eradication of poverty, gender equality, climate change, the push for decent jobs, innovation and, of course, transport. But a manifesto like this year’s political declaration is a way to bring all those factors together. Now it’s up to governments and, to a lesser degree, organisations in the private sector.
The next High-Level meeting will be convened in 2026 in New York. Will it be more of the same, or will there be progress to share?