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Safer Roads: Can We Satisfy Ourselves With Progress on Paper Only?

By Mike Dreznes, Executive Vice-President, International Road Federation

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As the Co-Chairman of Pillar II (“Safer roads and mobility”) of the United Nations Road Safety Collaboration, I was privileged to be in New York on April 15, 2016 as the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution on “improving global road safety” sponsored by 56 UN member states.

By a bitter twist of fate, this resolution came to pass as many countries around the world are reporting a notable increase in injuries and deaths on their roads, including in countries that had seen a steady decline in recent years. According to the UN and many specialists, the overwhelming majority of these deaths and injuries are predictable and preventable.

This was the first time the General Assembly had convened on the important issue of curbing road traffic injuries since the 2nd Global High Level Conference on Road Safety and the adoption of a new Sustainable Development framework, whose target to halve road deaths by 2020 is even more ambitious than the one set by the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020. 

On the face of it, there is thus growing consensus that governments and other development partners need to focus their attention and considerable resources on road safety. Within the global community of road safety professionals, the Safe System Approach, which affirms that road transport systems must be able to accommodate human error, has similarly received unanimous backing.

In fact, the UN resolution specifically calls on Member States to make efforts to ensure the safety and protection of all road users through safer road infrastructure, especially on the highest-risk roads with high rates of crashes involving both motorized and non-motorized modes of transport, through a combination of proper planning and safety assessment, design, building and maintenance of roads.

On the ground however, the situation could not be more different from the overwhelming consensus that has emerged at the United Nations.

In 2015, 82.5% of countries reported implementing road safety audits on new roads, yet over 70% of roads surveyed by the International Road Assessment Program (iRAP) in emerging countries were rated under 2 stars across at least one user category. These are the countries where nine out of ten fatal traffic injuries occur.

These figures suggest a startling disconnect between the theoretical merits of safe road planning and assessment, versus the actual results experienced by countless road users every day.

From countless exchanges I have had with road safety professionals, particularly since the launch of the UN Decade of Action, I have identified overlapping reasons behind this disconnect.

Some, such as lack of political leadership and the absence of funding instruments, must continue to be addressed through advocacy, peer pressure and longer term institutional assistance programs.

At field level however, the problem resides primarily with an uneven understanding and application of risk assessment procedures, lack of understanding as well as available resources for effective countermeasures and, in some cases, resistance to change by field personnel.

To remedy the issues caused by diverging risk assessment practices and auditor qualifications, IRF is announcing today two new important initiatives:

  • We are launching a new training program on “road network safety management” that will provide a complete diagnosis toolkit for road planners, designers and managers to forecast and prevent traffic injury risk. This course will premier in Dubai on September 4-8, and together with our Safer Roads by Design course in Orlando on December 4-10 offers the most comprehensive road safety training programs in the world.
  • We are also creating a pathway to offer formal certification to Road Safety Audit Team Leaders at global level on a volunteer basis. This process will build upon an earlier policy statement outlining qualifications for Road Safety Audit Team Leaders.

The “vaccines” are available to eliminate this epidemic of fatalities on the roads around the world.  These targets in the Sustainable Development Goals eliminate one more excuse that governments might use to justify not using these road safety countermeasures.

IRF strongly supports the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and we hope these Goals will convince road authorities to make the commitment to end the carnage on their roads and to make their roads safer for generations to come.


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