UN Campaign Places Road Deaths On International Agenda

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The Law Of... making the world's roads safer

With the continued impact road deaths have not just on this country, but countries around the world, the UN has stepped up its efforts to tackle the so-called 'hidden epidemic' of road traffic collisions and has set an ambitious goal of halving road deaths by 2020.

The UN has stepped up its efforts to tackle the 'hidden epidemic' of road traffic collisions and has set an ambitious goal of halving road deaths by 2020

Responding to the target, and outlining the continued prevalence of road safety awareness, is Rose Gibson – Partner in the Complex Personal Injury team at Simpson Millar LLP.

Leading Cause Of Death

According to the World Health Organisation road traffic collisions are the 9th leading cause of death around the world and are the leading cause of death for those aged between 15 and 29.

Of the 1.2million deaths caused by crashes each year, 90% take place in developing countries, however this is not an epidemic that's confined to particular parts of the world. Closer to home there were 24,610 people killed or seriously injured on the road in the year ending March 2016 – that's over 65 people every day.

As part of the UN's campaign to tackle the effect of road traffic collisions, there has been a long consideration of the effects that go beyond the immediate injury or fatality. Such considerations include the fact that every year 1million children are killed or seriously injured on roads globally – this is 1million children who subsequently miss out on an education.

Furthermore, there are the logistical and psychological factors to consider in the aftermath of serious road traffic collisions; in many countries, a parent dying in a car crash means that children have to again cut short their education, as they leave school to start work and earn money.

Decade Of Action For Road Safety

In response to the huge impact road traffic collisions are having globally, the FIA Foundation – which works on global road safety – pushed to establish the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety.

Amongst other targets, including an implementation of global road safety standards, it was this initiative that established the ambitious goal of reducing road fatalities by 2020.

Furthermore, the Decade of Action for Road Safety played a vital part in placing road safety on the global agenda, when it pushed for the halving of global deaths and injuries from road traffic collisions to be included as a target in a new release of UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

As part of the continued global campaign there have been various organisations that have lobbied governments and other stakeholders to implement basic safety measures.

As a result of this pressure, countries like Vietnam and Cambodia have implemented laws that require motorcyclists to wear a helmet, which, in turn, has increased the take-up of this simple but life-saving piece of equipment. This is a significant step, especially in Vietnam where 95% of registered vehicles are motorbikes or scooters and 59% of road traffic collisions involve motorcyclists.

Even in the UK, where laws for motorcyclists are stringent, those on bikes are disproportionately involved in crashes and casualties. The road safety charity, Brake, reports that motorcyclists are 38 times more likely to be killed in a crash than car occupants for every mile they ride.

Halving Deaths By 2020

The pressure on stakeholders and policy makers from campaigns like the Decade of Action is a significant part of the process for halving global road deaths by 2020.

Of course, it is not just governments ensuring that road users follow certain laws that will reduce road deaths, as car manufacturers and those involved in building roads and motorways could have a significant impact on reducing road traffic collisions.

It has been claimed that safety standards in developing nations are lower than in other parts of the world, with car manufacturers alleged to produce cars with lower safety standards for emerging markets. Furthermore, the development sector largely ignored road safety from the late 1990s onward, as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – a predecessor to SDGs – did not include road safety.

Brake has published a series of reports on road safety initiatives, ranging from safe systems to crash protection and have briefly surmised that:

  • Safe systems – the name given to road safety management that is based on the principle that our life and health should not be compromised by our need to travel – is recommended best practice by the World Health Organisation. In the UK safe systems has not been openly endorsed by subsequent governments, but is part of the vision of Highways England with safer roads, safer vehicles, safer speeds, and safer road use all considered as part of improving road safety in the UK
  • Seat belts and other crash protection measures, including airbags, have a significant effect on reducing serious injury and fatalities as a result of a road traffic collision. The headline figure from this is the fact that a standard 3-point seat belt reduces the chance of dying in a car crash by 50%
  • Speeds and stopping distances must be considered by all road users, and breaking a 30mph speed limit by just 5mph can significantly increase the effect on a pedestrian involved in a collision

Raising Awareness

With the target of halving road deaths by 2020 being openly ambitious, it should not be seen as a complete failure if the goal is not reached. Every reduction in road deaths represents lives saved, with an individual's potential not cut short in a fatal road collision.

One of the main challenges of reducing road deaths is challenging attitudes and behaviours of road users. If road users have a nonchalant attitude to road safety, they may not take on board the reasons that laws are changing.

As such, awareness is a key part of reducing road traffic collisions, as well as the deaths and serious injuries associated with road crashes.

Brake's Road Safety Week initiative, which runs from the 21st - 27th November, attempts to raise this vital awareness of road safety, with the implicit goal of changing attitudes and making all road users, whether they be pedestrians, motorcyclists, or car users, safer on the road.

Speaking on road safety and the global epidemic of road traffic collisions, Rose said:

"It is great to see that the UN has recognised the prevalence of road traffic collisions and their devastating effects around the world."

"For over a decade campaigners were on the fringe of society, campaigning without the support of global organisations or establishment figures, but with the rise in awareness of the devastating effects of road traffic collisions it is clear that this issue is being placed on the international agenda."

"There are a lot of things that will need to change, both here in the UK and around the world, if the UN is to meet its goal of halving road deaths by 2020. Through consultation with national and international campaigners I am confident that positive steps can be taken to tackle this issue."

"While the statistics of road deaths and serious injuries show the scale of the issue, it is only when you see the real-world effects on families that you understand the importance of safe road usage."

"Road traffic collisions can have a deep, long-lasting physical and psychological effect on those affected and only when we raise awareness and take a pledge to be safer on the road will we see these often avoidable incidents fall."

"Awareness is vital and the work done here in the UK by Brake is commendable, which is why the team at Simpson Millar is taking part in an abseil at the Trafford Centre in Manchester to raise funds for the charity."

"We hope that our fundraising efforts will help Brake to raise awareness of the importance of road safety and will help the charity organise a Road Safety Awareness Week that is as successful as the ones held for the previous 6 years."

UN Pushes for Action on Road Deaths - Infographic


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