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Our Transportation Future: Safer, more Sustainable, and more Equitable

There is great power in an ecosystem of diverse players and parties all working towards a shared goal. And when the goal is safer roads, we need that power now more than ever before. Recent reports tell the story: In the US, the Federal Highway Administration reports a 7% increase in road fatalities in 2020 despite a 13% decrease in miles traveled. This has led to the highest year-on-year rise in US roadway fatalities in 96 years, according to the National Safety Council. Association for Safe International Road Travel reports that half of the 3,700 road fatalities globally each day occur among pedestrians and vulnerable road users. World Health Organization reports road traffic injuries are the leading cause of death among young people ages 5-29. Whether you are a traffic engineer, policy maker, NGO leader, or a private-sector company like 3M – we all have a role and a responsibility to make transportation safer, more sustainable, and more equitable for our communities. The good news – what gives me confidence and optimism as we move forward – is that we have a strong ecosystem with diverse talents and strategic partnerships to solve these transportation challenges and to prepare for our transportation future.

The duty that industry and private sector companies have to be a part of the solution is also an opportunity. At 3M, we have been helping make roadways and vehicles more visible for more than 80 years. And while we are proud of the contributions, we’ve made to make roads safer, we know our solutions and our business model need to evolve to meet the future needs of our transportation system. As private sector players consider the role they play, we consider three key stakeholders common to all companies: customers, shareholders, and employees. These stakeholders are at the heart of all decisions we make. The positive news is that these stakeholders can be mobilized towards societal good; just look at how improving environmental footprint has turned from a curiosity into a mandate for companies globally. Private sector players have the opportunity and responsibility in road safety.

In my tenure in this industry, I have recognized a significant disconnect between cost and benefit. As new products and technologies come available and deliver significant safety benefits, we must clearly articulate the value they deliver. The socio-economic good of preventing even one crash, one fatality, is significant. It is our responsibility to tell that story – connecting the cost of road safety investment and the societal benefit it produces. When we consider all the investment in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, we should adopt the same mentality in solving the man-made road safety public health crisis.
A key theme of this year’s world meeting is Safe and Sustainable by Design. Safety has always been our central focus since 3M’s start in the industry more than 80 years ago, and we’ve helped accomplish that by creating visible, reflective, and durable products. Wet reflective pavement markings, high performing traffic signs and delineation have helped the globe navigate our roadways. 3M is a purpose-driven enterprise. As we strive to create safety solutions, we know innovation isn’t innovation without sustainability. That’s why we have recommitted to support the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Two specific goals that guide our decision-making at 3M are:

* 3.6: By 2020, halve the number of global deaths and injuries from road traffic accidents
* 11.2: Provide access to safe, affordable, accessible, and sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety, notably by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, women, children, persons with disabilities, and older persons.

Our commitment to sustainable transportation is a commitment we share not only with our customers, but with the NGOs and strategic partners with whom we collaborate.

The other pillar of this year’s meeting that I’m eager to connect with you on is Roads and Inclusive Societies. This has been an increasing recognition that inequalities in our transportation system have a ripple effect and create outcomes that can take generations to correct. The increasing acknowledgment that everyone deserves equal access to safe, sustainable, and affordable transportation is something that informs our thinking and investment. Transportation equity policies are making their way into master plans around the world – a much needed shift as we know road safety outcomes are not equal across gender, race, or socio-economic status.

Our transportation future is bright, and it inspires me every day. Equally as inspiring is the tremendous talent and expertise of our industry, agency, and NGO partners who are shaping the future. At 3M we’ve increased our resources towards strategic partnership, collaborating with organizations like Vision Zero Network or Smart Growth America in the US, or internationally with World Resources Institute, iRAP and Interamerican Development Bank. In the past two years when we have been physically separated by COVID-19, we have embraced the opportunity to strengthen our partnerships with these great organizations.

There is no limit to the impact we can make when our ecosystem comes together, leverages each other’s expertise, and creates sustainable, safe, and value-based solutions for our transportation future. As we say at 3M, together we can improve every life and solve the world’s toughest challenges. Here’s wishing you renewed focused and new inspiration at this, the 18th IRF World Meeting and Exhibition. #IRFWorldMeeting2021

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Dan Chen
President, Transportation Safety Division, 3M

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