11 April 2003

Agenda Item on "Global Road Safety Crisis" Recommended by General Committee

NEW YORK, 10 April (UN Headquarters) -- Owing to the rapid rise in road traffic injuries, which was taking their toll on poor, vulnerable road users, especially in developing countries, the General Committee this morning decided to recommend to the General Assembly the inclusion of a new item on its current agenda, entitled "Global road safety crisis". The Assembly will consider that recommendation tomorrow morning.

Also this morning, Committee Chairman Goncalo Aires de Santa Clara Gomes announced that a request made by the delegation of Yemen, and supported by the delegation of Sudan, to convene a General Assembly meeting to consider the situation in Iraq had been postponed.

At the meeting's outset, the representative of Oman, whose delegation had requested the addition of the item, said road safety was everybody's responsibility. By 2020, road traffic injuries would account for some 2.3 million deaths globally, with about 90 per cent occurring in developing countries. The annual cost of road crashes amounted to some $500 billion, with Africa bearing one fifth of that amount.

Recalling a recent happy outing on the roads of a suburb of Oman that turned into a horrible tragedy, with the parents and siblings of a four-year-old boy killed, he said "we owe it to children around the world to stave off that disaster". Global awareness of the problem was needed. For example, it was not widely known that more people died in traffic accidents than from malaria.

In accordance with rule 20 of the rules of procedure of the General Assembly, Oman had circulated an explanatory memorandum in support of its request (documents A/57/235 and Add.1). It found that one reason for the poor public-health response to road traffic injuries is that they disproportionately affect the poor and vulnerable, who have little influence over policy decisions. Another is that road traffic injuries are often perceived to be the proper concern of transport agencies, rather than public-health agencies.

The memorandum further stated that there are big differences between high- and low-income countries, in terms of the number of vehicles on the road, proper construction of roadways, training of drivers, enactment of policies, and enforcement. Road traffic injuries were the tenth leading cause of death, accounting for 2.2 per cent of all deaths. They were the leading cause of injury-related death, accounting for 20.3 per cent of all deaths from injury.

Of the total deaths from road traffic injuries, nearly 90 per cent were in low- and middle-income countries and just 12 per cent were in high-income countries, the memorandum stated. By 2020, it is projected that road traffic injuries will account for about 2.3 million deaths globally and will account for a greater proportion of all injury deaths, with more than 90 per cent of these deaths occurring in low- and middle-income countries.

Two of the main obstacles to promoting a scientific approach to road safety, however, are ignorance and lack of responsibility, it said. There is ignorance about the size of the problem. Few people realize that more people die on the road than from malaria, and many people do not know that road traffic injuries are preventable. If policy makers fully grasped how much could be gained by implementing policies on speed, drunk driving and motorcycle helmets, many lives could be saved. In order to improve road safety worldwide, those two obstacles need to be addressed.

The paper suggested that a discussion of this item in the General Assembly will bring together technical experts, professional organizations, interest groups and, most importantly, Untied Nations agencies, such as the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Bank, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), as well as governments, to pool resources and devise a strategy.

Annexed to the memorandum were facts about road traffic injuries. Deaths from injuries were projected to rise from 5.1 million in 1990 to 8.4 million in 2020, according to a joint WHO/World Bank report entitled "Global Burden of Disease", with increases in road traffic injuries being a major cause of the rise.

The General Committee will meet again at a date and time to be announced.

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