FIA President says saving lives on the planet’s roads “is a battle we can win” – but only if people stop to heed his message. Kate Walker reports.
The number of injuries and deaths linked to road traffic accidents around the world are on a par with figures associated with diseases such as AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis, yet deaths on the road are perceived as acceptable losses, an unfortunate but inevitable side effect of society’s dependence on the automobile.
But to think that one child dying every three minutes – 500 per day and 186,000 per year – constitutes an acceptable loss is shocking. To think that it is inevitable is short-sighted, as FIA President Jean Todt explained at a road safety forum co-chaired by the Inter-American Development Bank in Mexico City on Thursday.
“We have the answers,” Todt told attendees at the forum based around improving road safety for children. “We can eliminate road crashes around schools. This is not a fantasy, it is a question of will.
“We have examples where, with the right political support, dramatic progress has been made. In the early ‘90s over 1,500 kids were killed on their way to or from school annually in South Korea. Since 2010 it is less than 100 kids – a 95 per cent decrease – but it is still 100 too many.”
The FIA president went on to explain the simple but effective formula used in South Korea: the creation of more than 13,000 designated school zones with a 30kph speed limit, speed bumps, and surveillance cameras; 10 hours per year of mandatory road safety education for children; and doubled penalties and criminal prosecution for any driver who crashes in a designated school zone.
In South Korea, Todt pointed out, “kids’ safety around schools had become a national cause. We need to make sure it becomes a national cause for every government around the world.”
Huge efforts made in Mexico
In Mexico, where road accidents are the leading cause of death for children between five and nine years old, there has been a concerted effort to improve standards on the roads.
Public figures from motorsport including Sergio Perez, Esteban Gutierrez, FIA Vice President Jose Abed, and Carlos Slim Domit have been working with local government officials including Fernando Martínez Badillo, Under Secretary Traffic Management for the Secretary of Public Safety of the Federal District of Mexico, and Yuriria Mascott Pérez, Under Secretary for Transport of the Federal Government of Mexico to spread the road safety message however they can.
But while individuals can improve road safety standards through monitoring their own behaviour on the roads, to effect real change on a global level requires global cooperation, and global initiatives, as Todt explained.
“Everyone has a role to play,” he said. “At the national level, governments continue to have the primary responsibility because they – and only they – have the tools and leverage to introduce new legislation, and enforce them. But civil society groups and FIA clubs need to continue to take an important lead.
“At the regional level, we need to work to encourage cooperation with all regional banks and institutions to improve data collection. The work of the IBD and OISEVI in this regard has been crucial to improve the coordinated use of funding for road safety initiatives, as well as to learn from the experience of other neighbouring countries.
“And at the global level,” Todt concluded, “we need to ensure road safety is included as a key political priority in all governmental programmes. It is important that we ensure governments meet their commitments by putting in place clear and measurable indicators to monitor progress and implementation.
“We can win this battle. With the right political will, cooperation, visibility and financing, I know that together we can succeed.”
Getting the message across
Financing the ‘unsexy’ campaign to improve road safety has long been a challenge, Todt acknowledged, but with a little lateral thinking the problem can easily be solved.
“Road safety continues to suffer from a serious lack of resources and a lack of visibility,” Todt explained. “One priority we will work to advance is finding a sustainable innovative financing solution for road safety. Imagine for a moment if for every car sold, one dollar would go towards a road safety fund.
“And imagine if this was extended to a few cents for every rental, extra accessory, every insurance purchase, every tyre, every navigation device and so on… With 75 million cars sold each year, that could revolutionise the means we have to meet this crisis.”