Cape Town N2
“Usually the living close the eyes of the dead, but sometimes the dead open the eyes of the living”, stated Patrick Sankey, The International Road Federation President and CEO, quoting a former South African Minister for Transport following the death of the great grand child of the late Nelson Mandela. While we have been able to tackle death rates associated with diseases such as malaria and HIV/AIDS, our ability to address the issue of road fatalities, which currently constitute the worlds 8th highest cause of death, has thus far been limited.
1.3 million people each year die from road accidents, which include 500 child deaths a day or in other words, 1 child fatality every three minutes. Not only are such deaths painfully unnecessary, but they also have a significant impact on the economy of nations, with some countries losing up to 3% of GDP annually. Lower and middle-income countries are the hardest hit by road fatalities, and the problem on African continent in particularly acute. While only owning 2% of the world’s vehicles, Africans are plagued by 16% of all road deaths worldwide, and fatalities in sub-Saharan Africa are forecasted to double from 243,000 deaths predicted in 2015 to 514,000 by 2030.
The recent “Black Weekend” catastrophe on South Africa’s roads, which saw 141 people killed in a total 110 car crashes throughout various areas of the country, has underlined the importance of these nations improving road safety and traffic rules, tightening drunk driving laws and increasing the effectiveness of transport agencies and law enforcement to battle with dangerous motor conditions. Similarly, Ethiopia has been plagued by rising numbers of road crashes over the years, with figures reaching an extraordinary 17,052 accidents and 418 deaths over the past year, in comparison with the 2013/2014 period which saw 14, 921 collisions and 390 fatalities.
But not all hope is lost. Increased fatalities and unaddressed road safety and infrastructure issues on the African continent and worldwide encouraged the UN to adopt the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020, seeking to “help all countries drive along the path of a more secure future [and] save million of lives”. Working with the FIA Foundation and the World Health Organization, the initiative seeks to bring together key stakeholders, NGO’s, and leading companies to help battle what is increasingly coming to be a “growing epidemic of road traffic death and injury” with severe human and economic loss.
To help spread awareness of the gravity of the current situation, our failure to guarantee safe roads for some of the world’s most vulnerable populations, and to promote global action, Ban Ki-Moon appointed the President of FIA, Jean Todt, to the position of Special Envoy for Road Safety. While Todt has pointed out that the UN has already established 58 conventions and agreements that govern international transport and road safety, much more needs to be done to ensure that those that are the most effected by the global epidemic are able to adequately adopt these instruments. Calling on the international community to mobilize around the issue, Todt has also proposed a funding mechanism based on the model employed by UNITAID, which levy’s a tax on airline ticket sales. By collecting a tax on the sales of the automatic industry, we could significantly contribute to the global UN Fund for Road Safety and assist developing countries in their fight for safer roads.
“Road safety is not negotiable”, stated Makhosini Msibi, CEO of the South African Road Traffic Management Corporation following the country’s tragic road fatalities at the end of August. Indeed, it is high time that both African nations and the international community open their eyes to our global epidemic of road deaths, and fight against the unacceptable loss we experience on a daily basis. By calling on key decision makers to assist the African region and some of the most affected low and middle income nations with the development of safer roads, the UN can not only achieve its goal of saving 5 million lives on the world’s roads by 2020, but also create a new status quo that insures road safety is a guarantee, not a privilege.