Reclaiming the streets: Why we must put children at the heart of road safety efforts worldwide

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Jean Todt, UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Road Safety, United Nations, Achim Steiner, Administrator, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)

  • There are 1.3 million road crash deaths a year, and over 600 children and adolescents die in collisions across the world each day.
  • The world’s poorest countries suffer some of the highest rates of road fatalities and we need to address this stark inequality.
  • A 10% drop in deaths could raise per capita GDP by 3.6% over 24 years.
  • As we mark both World Children’s Day and the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims on November 20, the international community must work together to ensure children aren’t the victims of poor road safety.

With road crashes remaining the number one cause of death for children and young adults aged five to 29, it is a welcome coincidence that this year, World Children’s Day and World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims both fall on 20 November.

Road crashes can really hit the heart of a family. Cecilia, a 10-year-old girl in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, was making her way by foot to school, navigating the city’s busy traffic, when she was struck by a motorcycle and sustained head injuries.

It was a day like any other, but her life changed in a split second. As a result, she not only suffered concentration issues and fell behind in school. Her medical treatment cost $100 – equivalent to a monthly salary for her family that pushed them into debt.

It is a story that is repeated thousands of times a day as some of the poorest countries suffer from the world’s highest rates of injuries and deaths from road crashes. Indeed, more than 90% of road crash fatalities occur in low- to middle-income countries.

Yet through expanding access to the latest science, technology and innovation as well as finance, the world can dramatically reduce this stark and horrific form of inequality.

Road crashes an overlooked ‘pandemic’ for kids

Children are paying the highest price of 1.3 million annual road crash deaths. Every single day, more than 600 children and young people die in road crashes across the world: the vast majority of which occur in low- and middle-income countries.

These children are amongst people who lack other transportation options and are forced to walk on dangerous roads often without footpaths, unprotected from vehicles – which are basically speeding metal boxes that can weigh several tonnes.

Despite this global ‘silent pandemic’ that kills more people than AIDS and malaria combined, unsafe roads for young people are often overlooked in public health policies.

Road safety is also a key development issue as traffic crashes can push entire families into poverty through the loss of a breadwinner or the costs of medical care.

Remarkably, poor road safety costs developing countries between 2-5% of their GDP every year – an enormous figure that could otherwise go towards everything from building rural clinics to turning the lights on in schools for the first time through access to clean, renewable energy.

The global road safety divide

The global divide is even starker in particular regions. The continent of Africa, for instance – with just 2% of the world’s vehicles – has the highest road crash fatality rate in the world.

Since the 1960s, developed countries have been able to dramatically reduce road deaths thanks to a range of interventions such as seat belt laws, enforcement of speed limits, and warnings about the dangers of mixing alcohol consumption with driving.

Developing countries need the support to catch-up.

Getting children to school safely

All children have the right to use the roads get to school safely. Here’s some ways we can ensure that happens:

Think technology

Improving safety means combining technology-driven solutions – including how to build safer vehicles and safe roads – with low-tech solutions such as clear and consistent traffic rules and road signs, which are proven to improve safety.

We must also leverage best practice from cities across the world as well as data and analytics to reach those most at risk. For instance, 30 kph speed limits in populated areas can reduce pedestrian deaths by a massive 70%.

Or look at the fact that better cycling infrastructure and street design – specifically, separated and protected bike lanes – leads to fewer fatalities and better road safety outcomes for allroad users.

Make all streets safe and green

There are five key factors to work on to decrease the number of victims on the road: speeding; helmets; drink-driving; distracted driving, including the use of mobile phones; and seatbelts.

It is crucial to make streets safe for every child to walk, cycle, scoot or ride a wheelchair to school through better infrastructure, reducing private vehicle use; and providing safe, affordable and clean public transportation, which will also contribute to climate action.

Indeed, safe and green mobility is a quick win to reduce mortality in low- and middle-income countries.

Adopt UN-proven solutions

Across the globe, the United Nations is assisting countries to put these solutions into action, while calling upon every country in the world to apply the seven key UN legal instruments on road safety as a minimum.

For instance, these mandate child passenger restraint systems in vehicles, which are proven to result in more than a 60% reduction in motor vehicle crash-related injuries.

Invest in and build partnerships for children

The UN’s support recognizes that partnerships are the only means to tackle the carnage on the roads and everyone has a role to play including the international community, governments, cities, civil society, academia, the private sector and urban planners.

Crucially, children and young people must be involved in shaping a safer road system since they are the ones most affected, and they will also inherit the results of the road safety decisions that are made today. We have started to build this network with the first-ever global public-private partnership for road safety: the UN Road Safety Fund.

It is rolling-out projects in 46 countries including safe school zones in Paraguay, the Philippines and Zambia. Yet together, we could do much more. For instance, if countries were able to mobilize a relatively modest $100 million for the UN Road Safety Fund alone, it could help save an estimated 64,000 lives and prevent 640,000 serious injuries.

Addressing underlying causes of poor road safety

As part of these efforts, the UN, including the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), is supporting countries to address the underlying causes of poor road safety, such as poverty, poor infrastructure and inequalities, both within and between countries.

Indeed, progress can be achieved quickly as shown by the Colombian capital of Bogota, which halved road deaths over a period of just 10 years.


How is the World Economic Forum driving the energy transition?

The World Economic Forum’s Platform for Shaping the Future of Energy, Materials and Infrastructure works across six industries: electricity, oil and gas, mining and metals, chemicals and advanced materials, engineering and construction, and advanced energy solutions. It enables government and business to work together to accelerate the transformation of energy, materials and infrastructure systems.

Contact us for more information on how to get involved.

The fact that road deaths are the biggest killer of the younger generations is a stain on our global community. Our target of cutting road traffic deaths and injuries in half by 2030 is still within reach, but only if developed countries support developing countries to make the investments in the infrastructure, technology and legislation needed to improve road safety.

As we mark World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims and World Children’s Day, joining forces can help to prevent children like Cecilia and her family from suffering the very avoidable consequences of poor road safety. Simply put, no child should die or be injured while they go to school, cycle, or play.

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: