Chaired a session at the ‘Make Roads Safe’ event in Westminster early afternoon. The RAC had got me involved in this as part of a week long campaign on the issue that is part of the UN Global Road Safety Campaign.
My session was about whether Road Safety should be one of the Millennium Development Goals. Not sure whether you could actually add in new ‘goals’ – but I think the main point is that (a) it should be and (b) the goals for improving health are not achievable unless road safety in the developing world (well the whole world actually) gets proper attention.
Because road deaths tend to happen spread across numerous small incidents, they often get relatively little media coverage – and so it is easy to underestimate their volume.
One telling statistic – in the 1980s more Americans were dying each year on the roads than died in Vietnam in total, but you didn’t get nightly stories of carnage on the roads.
Road safety has – thankfully! – improved massively since then in the US. Looking round at other countries today though, road deaths around the developing world kill more people than malaria or TB for example. Stories about the fight against malaria pop up in our media, the overall story are the larger numbers being killed on the roads barely features.
The human tragedy is by far the greatest part of the problem, though – and forgive the harshness of this – it does also bring a financial burden, whether it is care for the injured or support the relatives. This all adds up to a significant financial drain on countries that are often struggling financially.
So – the importance and priority there should be on this issue seemed clear. I chaired a panel of three expert speakers who all gave excellent presentations on the costs – human and financial. All the panellists were quite clear that roads had to be built in order to develop and the situation in developing countries around the pros and cons of road building was quite different from those in a developed country like the UK. There are of course environmental costs of more roads (in terms of ending up with more vehicles and vehicle usage) and successful development requires much more than just roads – but those are issues for another day as this event was tightly focused on the question of safety.
Mark Rosenberg (one of the speakers) pointed out that if you replace a traffic light intersection with a roundabout you can reduce road accidents by something like 90% (from memory) – and switching to more roundabouts is just the sort of change that is practical in many places. Although we have loads of roundabouts in the UK, we’re pretty unusual in that regard – so who knows, perhaps UK firms will become global leaders in the roundabout field!
I asked the (very large) audience at the end if anyone disagreed with the proposition that road safety become one of the Millennium Development Goals – and to raise their hands if they did. Not a hand was raised. So I turned to the panel and said: ‘You won them over!’