Press Releases

                                                                                                                     15 April 2004

    Road Safety Requires Commitment at Highest Leadership Levels, Deputy-Secretary-General Tells General Assembly

    NEW YORK, 14 April (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of remarks, as delivered today by Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette, to the General Assembly meeting on road safety:

    This meeting of the General Assembly brings much-needed attention to a global crisis that exists right in front of our eyes yet, with some noble exceptions, has until now been strangely off the radar screen of public policy.

    One million two hundred thousand men, women and children are killed in traffic accidents every year. Surely that should be enough to make road safety a leading issue in global public health.

    As with so many other public health problems, the poor suffer disproportionately. More than 80 per cent of those 1.2 million deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries. And in those countries, those most at risk of being injured or killed in a crash are pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists, and people who use informal means of public transport.

    The human consequences of road crashes are frequently devastating. Survivors and their families must cope with the painful and often long-term consequences of injury, disability and rehabilitation. The cost of care and the loss of a primary breadwinner can drive a family into poverty.

    The economic costs are also enormous. Road traffic injuries cost most countries between 1 and 2 per cent of their gross national product –- a total of more than $500 billion every year. The cost in the low- and middle-income countries exceed the amount they receive in development assistance.

    It need not be so. People hold a fatalistic view of road crashes, often encouraged by the use of the word “accident” instead of “crash” or “collision”. Yet, many of the risks involved are entirely within our control. Many crashes can be prevented, while the effects of many others can be reduced. We have a lot to do to raise awareness. We must ensure that hard-earned gains in public health and development are not undermined by these preventable deaths and injuries.

    Yes, we have a lot of work to do. But we know what works, and we have the knowledge at hand to make the necessary changes. This is a multisectoral problem, not just the domain of ministries of transport. Ministries of health, finance, environment, education, justice, police and others -- all have to work with the transport sector to improve road safety.

    We can take heart in the widespread enthusiasm shown by so many organizations and experts throughout the world, which are teaching and learning about road safety, and taking the initiative to make roads safer. The UN family, including the World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the World Bank and others, will continue to play its role.

    I call upon Member States and civil society to take concerted action on key issues such as wider dissemination of safety devices, improved design of roads and vehicles, and firmer action against speeding and those who drive while their reactions are impaired by alcohol or drugs.

    I also call upon the donor community to make additional investments in this area. Current support for road safety in developing countries is insufficient. Such contributions would be cost-effective. Even more important, they would save lives.

    Road safety is no accident, as it’s been said. It requires commitment at the highest levels of leadership. The less we do about it, the more lives will be shattered. I urge this Assembly to adopt a resolution that reflects our unanimous will to improve global road safety. Let us remind ourselves and each other that, working together, we can save lives.

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