Mobility is at a crossroads says the UN, which way should you go?

Does it matter if the 7th UN Global Road Safety Week demands that businesses #RethinkMobility? Hands up who’s been on social media to proclaim #StreetsforLife or #RoadSafety yet? 

And can anyone remember the outcome of the previous six UN Global Road Safety Weeks? 

It’s easy to see why people within organisations might think the week (held in mid-May) isn’t a big deal. The UN has no real powers to speak of, and much of what it produces for general consumption verges on the bland. 

It might be 100% accurate to announce: “We demand safe and sustainable mobility” but it’s not exactly catchy. Worse, it’s not even immediately obvious what it means, and it’s certainly not going to make everyone reduce their speed by 10mph.

This is unfortunate because that simple act would help enormously. Road traffic injuries are a leading cause of death and disability worldwide, with around 1.3 million people killed and as many as 50 million people injured each year. 

For people aged between 5-29 years, there is no greater threat to their lives. Globally, one of every four deaths occur among pedestrians and cyclists. 

Fortunately, the full impact of UN Global Road Safety Week is felt behind the scenes and in the corridors of power. Most organisations with fleets are at least a couple of steps removed and are more likely to hear the messaging from trade bodies or governments.

No more business as usual

So, what does the UN want? Well, in collaboration with governments, influencers and policy makers, what the 7th UN Global Road Safety Week wants is for the world to shift away from more roads and more vehicles. 

Instead, it wants a greater focus on investment in walking, cycling and public transport. Plus, lower speed limits. 

‘Business as usual isn’t working’, it says. Instead, there should be a greater focus on roads and streets designed for people, not cars.

“We need to redesign streets for people, starting with those most at risk of injury: children and adolescents, people with disabilities, pedestrians, cyclists and users of public transport,” says the UN.

But when it comes to businesses with tight delivery schedules, this might be the last thing you want to hear. Fewer roads, slower speeds? Should you employ more cycle couriers, adopt e-bikes or make sales executives give up their company cars in exchange for public transport? 

Evidence that it works

You could do these things, of course, but there’s a better solution. The UN says there is strong evidence that maximum 30kph roads save lives, especially among pedestrians, cyclists, children, and young people, and have environmental and other benefits.

NGOs around the world have used previous Global Road Safety Weeks to push for long-term commitments for 30 kph limits at community, city, regional, and national levels, recognising that different countries are at different stages in that journey. 

There is evidence that it’s working, in December 2019, 30kph limits became regulation on urban roads across Zambia. On 11 May 2021, in Spain, 30 kph became the default speed limit for all urban areas across the country. Similarly in Ecuador, a new law imposes a 30 kph limit for residential urban areas and a 20 kph limit around school zones. 

Similarly, in Paris, more than 1,000 km of new cycling lanes and 169 pedestrianized “school streets” have been built and in India there has been a dramatic fall in the manufacture of zero-star-rated cars and an increase in the manufacture of 4- and 5-star rated cars, with enhanced pedestrian protection. 

The momentum from repeated Global Road Safety Weeks is driving change.

What about businesses?

Businesses can play a part in creating safe and sustainable mobility too. According to the World Health Organization: “Driving is likely an employee’s highest-risk daily activity. That’s why a corporate road safety programme — for all colleagues and not just company drivers—is good business. It’s always a good day when an employee arrives home safely.”

Research backs this up. According to one study, the fleet safety initiatives that have potential to be effective are:

  • Selecting safer vehicles

  • Driver training and education programmes 

  • Incentives (not rewards)

  • Company safety programmes in companies with an overall safety emphasis.

As road-safety charity Brake’s Chief Executive Mary Williams says: “Road deaths and accidents can be stopped by organisations taking responsibility for safety and saying they will put safety first. It makes good business sense. It saves money as well as lives.”

So, can you rethink mobility in your organisation? And can you make it sustainable?

Maybe we should all rethink #RoadSafety.

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