It doesn’t get as much attention as other global summits of one kind or another, but this week the International Transport Forum is going on in Leipzig, Germany. It’s the biggest gathering of transport ministers and policymakers, and the theme for this year is transport safety and security.
This is good to see, because road safety is a under-reported global issue. Britain ranks very high for road safety and it’s easy to forget, but someone is killed on the roads somewhere in the world every 25 seconds. That’s 3,500 fatalities a day, and over 1.2 million people a year.
More people die in car accidents every year than die from malaria or AIDS, or from conflict of natural disasters. A further 20-50 million people are injured or disabled. But because every accident is an isolated incident, it doesn’t make the news and therefore doesn’t get the attention or funding it requires.
If the death and disability toll isn’t enough on it’s own, there are a number of reasons to talk about this more. Road safety is a major social justice issue. 90% of road deaths occur in lower income countries, even though they have fewer cars. The richest can afford to drive, the poorest can’t, but road accidents don’t just happen to drivers – 752 pedestrians are killed every day on average, and 137 cyclists. Many of them will be children or teenagers.
In countries with endemic corruption, a driver can kill someone or cause life-changing injuries, pay a bribe and drive away from the scene. There is no justice for the victim, and often no healthcare either. I’ve seen this with my own eyes more than once in Africa, so I feel licensed to put it bluntly: the rich kill the poor with their cars.
Where budgets are tight, governments and local authorities find it tempting to save money on pavements, pedestrian crossings or barriers. After all, the people making the decisions will be the elite, who are likely to drive. Cars will be prioritised. This is short sighted, because every accident has a price. Globally, road accidents cost over half a trillion dollars, and some countries are losing 1-2% of their GDP every year. Road safety is a good investment, and it deserves more aid funding and philanthropy.
Another reason to prioritise road safety right now is that in the places with the most dangerous roads, the problem is getting worse rather than better. Car sales in Africa are running well ahead of spending on safety.
This is all being discussed this week by the world’s transport ministers, including a new UN target to halve road deaths by 2030. Since it’s been a week for fawning over royalty, I ought to mention Prince Michael of Kent. In the modern royal tradition of picking a cause and making yourself useful, Prince Michael is a global advocate for road safety and will be giving a keynote speech at this week’s event. He is calling for a three point plan: using UN targets, new funding for road safety, and new political commitment.