Nations Can Agree on Road Safety

April 1, 2014

A note from Flaura K. Winston, MD, PhD, Scientific Director of CIRP@CHOP: Today we welcome a guest blogger to discuss the upcoming United Nations General Assembly debate about Road Safety, taking place on April 10. T. Bella Dinh-Zarr, PhD, MPH, is the U.S. Director of the FIA Foundation, an international philanthropy dedicated to safe, sustainable transportation and a leader in the Decade of Action for Road Safety movement. She also serves as Co-Chair of the UN’s NGO Committee on Sustainable Development.

Road Safety at the United Nations

On the morning of April 10, 2014, the United Nations will debate road safety. Ambassadors and other diplomats will gather that day on the floor of the General Assembly to discuss how traffic crashes affect each of their countries, rich or poor. Although geopolitically sensitive issues abound, there is one issue that every nation can agree on – keeping people, especially children, safe on the world’s roads.

Road crashes kill more than 30,000 Americans and 1.2 million people worldwide every year. Fifty million people are injured and it is the leading cause of death for children over the age of 5. Children are being vaccinated against diseases in early childhood, but when they reach school age, they need a vaccine against being killed on the roads. These vaccines exist – in the form of safer road infrastructure, better laws and enforcement, safer vehicles, and post-crash care – but we need to ensure they are used. 

The UN passed a resolution in 2010 declaring the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020 with the support of over 100 countries, including the U.S. The goal of the Decade of Action is to stabilize and then reduce traffic fatalities and injuries, potentially saving 5 million lives over 10 years. In past UN meetings, road traffic injuries have been acknowledged as a major public health and development problem with a broad range of social and economic consequences, affecting education, health care, the advancement of women and girls, and impeding poverty reduction. Road safety is integral to the sustainable development of countries and is an important component of the UN’s Post-2015 goals.

The World Health Organization published a Global Status Report which documents road safety in 182 countries, accounting for nearly 99% of the world’s population. The report indicates that the total number of road traffic deaths remains unacceptably high at 1.24 million per year. Only 28 countries, or 7% of the world’s population, have comprehensive road safety laws on five key risk factors: drinking and driving, speeding, and failing to use motorcycle helmets, seat-belts, and child restraints. This report serves as a baseline for the Decade of Action for Road Safety.

We are now completing our third year of the Decade of Action for Road Safety. How are we doing? Thanks to the hard work of CIRP@CHOP and many others, we have the research to make good, lifesaving policies and to provide people with many of the resources they need to keep themselves and their families safe. The WHO and the FIA Foundation established the Road Safety Fund (www.roadsafetyfund.org) to help provide funding for Decade of Action activities. But now, we need to set targets, invest money, and take action.

April 10th is a rare opportunity for us to show support for preventing road traffic injuries and deaths, at home and around the world. Acknowledging diplomatic differences, we cannot forget that 3,000 people die every day because of crashes around the world – and that we can do something about it.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has identified motor vehicle injuries as one of the nation’s most important public health problems and a “Winnable Battle.” In our complex world, there are not many clearly winnable battles and not many issues where everyone is on the same side. But preventing road deaths, like preventing diseases, is one issue that every country can and should agree on.

What can we do? Tell the U.S. to speak up for road safety on April 10! Write a letter to Ambassador Power at USUNPolFax@state.gov. Or Tweet your support for #April10 #RoadSafety to @UN @USUN @AmbassadorPower