27 October 2005

General Assembly Designates Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims, Invites States to Implement Measures to Improve Global Road Safety

NEW YORK, 26 October (UN Headquarters) -- The third Sunday of November would be the annual day of remembrance for victims of road traffic accidents and their families, the Assembly decided this morning by adopting a resolution, without a vote, on improving global road safety.

The Assembly was of the view that designation of a special day was the appropriate acknowledgement for victims of road traffic crashes and their families.  In adopting the resolution, the Assembly also invited States to implement recommendations in the World Report on Road Traffic Injury Prevention, compiled by the World Health Organization (WHO), and to establish national lead agencies on road safety, along with action plans to reduce road traffic injuries.

Introducing the text, Oman's representative said roadway accidents were a crisis in the making.  Some 1.2 million people died and another 20 to 50 million were injured each year in traffic accidents, growing at a rate the WHO predicted would outstrip HIV/AIDS-related deaths by 2020.  He called for assistance to States in building the capacity to manage road safety systems, as well as for States to pass legislation making vehicles, roadways and drivers safer.

Australia's representative said his country's road toll had been reduced to one third the level it had been in the 1960s through a strategic approach based on principles in the World Report.  Challenging and measurable targets had been set, outcomes monitored, action plans developed and cooperation across sectors encouraged.  Factors in the success were mandatory seat belt requirements, enforcement of drunk driving laws and media targeting. 

Pointing to speed as the number one killer in road traffic accidents, Singapore's representative said tough laws had been enacted to prosecute "speed demons" in his country.  Enforcement of the new law had caused anxiety at first, but with education the public had come to realize the objective was to save lives, particularly those of the vulnerable.

Noting that the situation in his country was similar to that in many others, the representative of the United Arab Emirates said rapid development, easy access to cars and public preference for private vehicles had created a crisis in deaths due to traffic accidents, particularly among the young.  Now the annual death rate had dropped by more than five per cent.  International resolutions on road safety had been adopted, preventive measures had been taken in road construction and legislation enacted and strictly enforced.  Steps were also being taken to reduce traffic by exploring alternative means of mass transportation.

India's representative said his country had lagged behind for many years in developing its highway system, but a concerted effort had been made now to improve highway engineering and infrastructure.  The improved road system would promote development and also reduce congestion and accidents.  While road safety legislation was strictly in national jurisdiction, the WHO could assist countries to identify road safety interventions and to implement them.

Also speaking on the global road safety crisis were the representatives of China, Russian Federation, Thailand, Fiji, Malaysia, Iceland and Argentina.

Statements were also made on the outcomes of United Nations conferences and the 2002 special session on children by the representatives of Viet Nam, Indonesia and Venezuela, as well as the Observer of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

The Assembly will meet again at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 27 October, when the report of the International Court of Justice will be taken up.


The General Assembly met this morning to hold a debate on the global road safety crisis, following the conclusion of its joint debate on implementation of conference outcomes and the 2002 special session on children.  (For background on those issues, see Press Release GA/10408 of 25 October.)

Statements on Conference Outcomes, Children

NGUYEN DUY CHIEN (Viet Nam) said that, three years later, the commitments contained in the outcome document of the 2002 special session of the Assembly on children, "A world fit for children", remained unrealized.  Today, 300 million children in the world were subjected to violence, exploitation and abuse in various forms, and 2.2 million children were living with HIV/AIDS, of which 640,000 were infected last year. 

In order to succeed in all four areas of the Plan of Action adopted at the special session -- promoting healthy lives; providing quality education; protecting against abuse, exploitation and violence; and combating HIV/AIDS -- concerted efforts were needed at the national level, including developing and implementing national targets which complemented and reinforced those of the Plan of Action and the Millennium Declaration.  At the international level, assistance and cooperation among countries, and between countries and the United Nations, was needed to help those with scarce resources focus on meeting the Millennium Goals.

Turning to the plight of children in his own country, he noted that Viet Nam was the second country in the world to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  Two areas of crucial importance to Vietnamese children today were the promotion of healthy lives and the provision of quality education.  On health care, Viet Nam had developed programmes for improved access to immunization and prevention of malnutrition, and the country had reduced its child mortality rate in line with Millennium Goal number four.  There were improvements in the areas of access to basic education for all children and enrolment in primary schools.  Efforts had also been taken to address the educational disparity between regions, including through the expansion of boarding schools throughout the country.

ADIYATWIDI ADIWOSO ASMADY (Indonesia) said that the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) had a vital role to play in the achievement of the outcomes of major United Nations conferences and summits.  But, implementation of outcomes was slow and she urged specialized agencies and national Governments to cooperate with the Council to produce results.  An increasing number of countries had drafted national plans of action to achieve "A World Fit for Children", and issues concerning children were increasingly becoming integral to national planning.  Indonesia had adopted the National Programme for Indonesian Children 2015, which had already had an impact on the health and physical security of its children.

Action was also being taken to combat infections in children and provide them with sound diets, she said.  Polio and measles, which were on the rise in Indonesia, were being fought with a major immunization programme which had reached 24 million children.  Nutrition programmes, particularly targeted at impoverished children under five and pregnant women, were reducing maternal and newborn mortality rates.  Having adopted the motto, "A healthy mind in a healthy body", Indonesia had also set up Creative Learning Communities for Children designed to make learning fun.  The creative learning programmes had expanded from 79 schools in 2000 to 1,326 schools in 2004 and were reaching nearly 250,000 children.

IMERIA NÚÑEZ DE ODREMÁN (Venezuela) said she believed in the international community's will to confront the problems of humanity, but did not consider that the outcome document of the recent World Summit should be invoked on the current item.  It was well known that Venezuela had sent a letter to the Assembly President calling for the legal adviser of the United Nations, through the good offices of the Secretary-General, to be consulted on the possibility of restoring the legitimacy and credibility of the outcome document.  The letter had asked whether the reform process conformed with the United Nations Charter and the rules of the General Assembly, and whether the reform had truly been approved by consensus, given accusations of its lack of legitimacy.  Until a reply was given to that request, which Venezuela had made as part of its prerogatives as a sovereign nation and a full member of the General Assembly, any activity regarding the implementation of the outcome document must remain in abeyance. 

ENCHO GOSPODINOV, Observer of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said that HIV/AIDS and children was one of the major challenges faced today.  The Sixth Pan-African Conference, held in Algiers in September 2004, had established a Plan of Action that included the following objectives:  fighting stigma and discrimination faced by people with HIV/AIDS and children orphaned by it; fighting the pandemic through education; and providing psychological support for affected families and communities.  In southern Africa alone, the Federation was currently reaching 50,000 home care-based people, many of them children, and the goal was to triple that figure by 2010.  There was also an appeal launched to provide food, agricultural support and safe drinking water to vulnerable people in seven southern African countries.

Support for orphans and other children made vulnerable by HIV was also being given priority in the African region, he continued.  The Federation had developed a regional strategy in southern Africa that advocated holistic support, including food and shelter, plus psychological, social and educational backing.  Currently, Red Cross volunteers were supporting 90,000 orphaned children in southern Africa and the aim was to reach a much larger number by 2010.  HIV/AIDS killed and affected more people annually than earthquakes and hurricanes combined.  "In some newspaper advertisements, I am encouraged to adopt a highway, a lake, a forest, a street dog or an elephant in a zoo… However, to accompany our global and coordinated actions to combat HIV/AIDS and secure better futures for our children, maybe the time has come to individually and specifically adopt villages in Africa."

Global Road Safety Crisis

FUAD AL-HINAI (Oman), introducing draft resolution A/60/L.8 on improving global road safety, said that since the Assembly had last met to discuss global road safety, some 1.2 million people had been killed on roadways around the world, and another 20 to 50 million had been injured or disabled.  And while those figures were startling, they did not make headlines like death tolls from plane crashes during the same period.  That was troubling since the World Health Organization (WHO) predicted that the numbers would continue to rise, as the global road safety crisis steadily got worse.  Indeed, the agency believed that by 2020, the numbers of roadway deaths and injuries would exceed those wrought by HIV/AIDS.

The most alarming aspect of the deepening crisis was that roadway accidents and deaths were predictable and preventable, he said, alarmed that few recognized that as an "epidemic in the making".  The deaths and injuries rose, as the number of cars on the road increased.  "We have the tools and the knowledge to prevent these deaths", he said.  And while there had been much activity surrounding the issue around the world and within the United Nations system, with WHO in the lead, much remained to be done to turn the tide in the crisis and save perhaps some 5 million lives over the next 15 years.

Among other things, he called for the collection of meaningful data and the enhancement of information networks that could help Governments view road safety as an important investment.  There was also a need to build the capacity of States to manage road safety systems, as well as the need to pass legislation that would help make vehicles, roadways and drivers safer.  Efforts to minimize the crisis had become a priority for Oman, which had, among other things, established a national road safety agency to update legislation and obtain detailed information on the causes of the crisis.  Introducing the draft resolution before the Assembly, he said the text invited Member States to implement the recommendations of the WHO World Safety Report on Traffic Injury and Prevention, and to establish national agencies to develop local plans of action. 

FAHAD SALEM AL KAABI (United Arab Emirates) said it was imperative to strengthen international cooperation in helping poor and developing countries to implement road safety programmes, especially by supporting national efforts and providing financial and technical assistance through the regional commissions and specialized agencies.  Due to rapid development, easy access to cars and public preference for private vehicles as a means of transportation, his country, like others, had reached the crisis point in the number of deaths due to traffic accidents, particularly among the young, until measures were taken that reduced road accidents by five and a half per cent annually.

Those measures included the adoption and implementation of international resolutions on road safety, he said.  Also, preventive measures had been taken, such as ensuring that road construction and maintenance, as well as traffic management, was handled in accordance with international standards using the latest technology.  Also, laws had been enacted for safe driving, officers had been trained, traffic awareness was taught and higher standards were applied for vehicular safety.  Penalties for violations were strict and rehabilitation was provided for victims.  At the same time, steps were being taken to provide alternative means of transportation, including new forms of mass transportation, to reduce the use of private cars, traffic jams and accidents.

NG CHUN PIN (Singapore) said his Government had taken many steps to improve road safety in the past two decades.  A National Road Safety Action Plan, developed with the assistance of the Asian Development Bank, was a strategic collaboration between governmental agencies, non-governmental organizations and the private sector to enhance road safety through a "5Es" approach:  Encouragement, Emergency preparedness, Engineering, Education and Enforcement.

He said the Plan involved setting up a road safety executive structure to enhance participation by stakeholders.  Further, it entailed the delivery of swift intervention at accident sites, the promotion of engineering initiatives to reduce fatalities, the education of drivers and the enforcement of laws.  Since speed was the number one killer, tough laws had been enacted to prosecute "speed demons" exceeding the limit by more than 40 kilometres per hour.  Enforcement of the new law had caused anxiety at first, but with education the public had come to realize the objective was to save lives, particularly those of the vulnerable.

JANARDHANA POOJARY (India) said his country had a road network of over 3 million kilometres, with an annual road traffic growth rate of 7-10 per cent.  Indian roads carried 85 per cent of the passenger and 60 per cent of the freight traffic, with highways carrying 40 per cent of that traffic, even though they comprised only two per cent of the road network.  India had lagged behind for many years in developing its highway system but a concerted effort had been made recently to improve highway engineering and advance the highway infrastructure.  Through the National Highway Development Project, over 14,000 kilometres of highways would be converted into four- or six-lane roads to connect all regions of the country.

That enhanced focus on improving highway infrastructure would not only promote development, he said, but would also reduce congestion and accidents.  India's Ministry of Road Transport and Highways formulated policies for road safety, and while such measures were strictly within national jurisdiction, the WHO could take the lead in assisting countries to identify road safety interventions and to implement them.  It was gratifying that the resolution before the Assembly today recognized the importance of providing financial and technical support for developing countries to build capacities in road safety.

BOHUA XIE (China) said that road traffic deaths and injuries had serious economic and social impacts on all nations, and in particular developing countries.  Road accidents produced some $65 billion in losses annually in developing countries, twice the annual amount received in development assistance.  Reducing road traffic incidents was, therefore, important for poverty eradication, reduction of child mortality and sustainable development.  It was particularly at times when countries were developing their road transport that the highest rates of accidents occurred because road conditions, human behaviour and management had difficulty keeping up with rapid development.  But, countries had the know-how to prevent such accidents.  Therefore, it was necessary for countries to share their experiences and learn from each other's best practices.

It was also necessary for the international community to provide more assistance in funding, technology and training.  China, whose road system was rapidly developing because of its rapid economic development, had a particularly high accident rate.  But, it had taken steps to address the problem, including through the adoption of a Road Traffic Safety Act in 2004.  As a result, between 2003 and 2004 alone, traffic accidents were down nearly 15 per cent, fatalities were down almost 5 per cent and costs were down nearly 18 per cent.  China's road deaths fell to 9.2 per 1,000, for the first time dropping into the single digits.

DMITRY I. MAKSIMYCHEV (Russian Federation) said his country placed a great deal of importance on highway safety, and recognized that the United Nations should play a larger role in many facets of the problem.  It was necessary for countries to share their experiences in that area and, where necessary, provide technical, expert and financial support to address highway safety problems.  The Russian Federation agreed with the measures suggested to improve highway safety set forth by the United Nations.  The creation of a working group on road safety was a very timely step and the mandates it had set forth were commendable.  He awaited practical and concrete results from the group's work.  The World Health Organization should continue to play a coordinating role in road safety.  He also noted the significant role played by the European Union in that regard.

Granted that international cooperation played an important role in road safety, the responsibility for road safety lay ultimately with national and local authorities.  The Russian Federation was taking several steps in that regard, including by tightening up laws and enforcement.  It was also improving public transport to address the problem.  There had already been positive results.

There had been a 5.4 per cent reduction in fatal accidents in the first half of 2005 versus the same period in 2004, and there had been a significant reduction in accidents caused by drunk drivers.

ITTIPORN BOONPRACONG (Thailand) said his country was pleased that, since April 2004, considerable progress had been made in initiating international cooperation in addressing the problem of road safety.  In particular, he welcomed the establishment of the United Nations Road Safety Collaboration, which, among other things, had produced how-to manuals on the implementation of recommendations in the World Report on Road Traffic Injury Prevention.  Thailand placed great importance on the issue of road safety, and traffic injury prevention was put on the national agenda in December 2003.  It was particularly concerned about traffic accidents involving young and drunk drivers.  To combat that problem, it had introduced a partial ban on alcohol advertising and had prohibited athletes and celebrities from doing alcohol advertising.

Thailand, concerned about the high level of traffic accidents during holiday periods, had also taken steps to reduce them, including publicizing the numbers of deaths during those periods.  Already, that strategy had produced results.  Continued national and local efforts, as well as greater efforts in the international community, were needed regarding road safety.  In particular, he urged countries to share their know-how on reducing traffic accidents.  Efforts by the World Bank and by private companies to provide financing to developing countries to improve their road safety were also welcome.

ISIKIA RABICI SAVUA (Fiji) said that, aside from the tragic loss of life and millions of injuries and disabilities caused by accidents on the world's roadways, overall, the global road safety crisis was costing States some $518 billion per year, with some $110 billion attributable to developing countries.  As for Fiji, casualties sustained in road traffic accidents had increased some nine per cent in the past year.  The WHO's World Report on the crisis had played a major role in the Government's effort to outline a relevant national prevention strategy and to put in place effective countermeasures.  Further, the Fiji Police Microcomputer Accident Analysis Report, funded by the Asian Development Bank, had been established in 1994 to help maintain proper records on traffic accidents.

He said that Fiji also had a programme in place to deal with related issues such as improving road design, construction and management, including rehabilitating and upgrading land use and road network planning.  Fiji considered such matters prerequisites to tackling its road safety issues.  It had also placed emphasis on safe driving, with improved testing and training, which focused on drivers as well as passengers.  Vehicle design, maintenance and operation were also considered a priority.  Traffic safety was also highlighted in driver's education classes in schools.

WEE KA SIONG (Malaysia) said his country welcomed the creation of the United Nations Road Safety Collaboration and the efforts of a number of United Nations agencies to achieve road safety.  It was very disturbing that road traffic injuries continued to pose a major public health problem and was a leading cause of death, particularly in developing countries.  Grim statistics regarding the human toll road accidents took demanded the attention of the international community.  In addition to the human toll traffic accidents produced, there was a grave economic toll.  In 2004, traffic accidents had taken 6,000 lives in Malaysia and cost $1.5 billion due to loss of productivity, medical costs, management costs, property damage and other expenses.

Malaysia had placed road safety on its national agenda in 2004 and had created the Department of Road Safety.  In addition, Malaysia was an active participant in a number of regional and international efforts to improve road safety.  While he welcomed the World Health Organization's report to the General Assembly, he believed that the report's proposals and recommendations were not exhaustive, and encouraged Member States to continue to exchange ideas and experiences in road safety improvement.  He also appealed to the international community to provide financing so that countries in need could improve their infrastructures to enhance safety and to conduct public awareness campaigns.

ANDREW SOUTHCOTT (Australia) said road safety was a prominent focus of public policy at all levels of his Government.  At the national level, a strategic approach embraced many of the principles advocated in the World Report.  Those included setting challenging and measurable targets, monitoring outcomes, developing action plans, and encouraging cooperation across sectors.  Australia's road toll was now at one third of the level of the 1960s, which he attributed to mandatory seat belt requirements, enforcement of laws on driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs, and media messages delivered by health professionals during the holidays, among other measures. 

He said Australia's current goal was to reduce the per capita fatality rate by 40 per cent between 2000 and 2010.  The country had taken a broad-based approach, recognizing that substantial gains could only be achieved by addressing different parts of the road transport system.  The safety of the vehicle fleet was being improved, and safer road user behaviour was being encouraged through a combination of intensive enforcement, graduated licensing arrangements and public education campaigns.

He said Australia had made good progress in the first four years of its ten-year plan, with the national fatality rate having declined by 17 per cent between 2000 and 2004.  Maintaining that momentum was becoming increasingly difficult, though, and there were already signs of a need to examine new ideas and adopt better practices if the objectives set for 2010 were to be met.  Australia was keen to learn from the experiences of other countries, and encouraged others to take a similar view. 

HJÁLMAR W. HANNESSON (Iceland) said the seriousness of the issue was clear from the statistics.  The solution would largely involve persuading motorists to change their behaviour.  Unlike in many other countries, the large majority of road accident fatalities in Iceland did not occur in the city.  The accident rate in built-up areas had declined significantly over the years, and three fourths of fatal accidents now occurred in the countryside.  The Icelandic Ministry of Transport had developed a four-year road safety improvement strategy, which began last spring and employed a cost-benefit system to determine where improvements were most urgent. 

He said that Iceland had launched an initiative last summer to reduce speeding and improve seat belt use on out-of-town highways.  Police surveillance was doubled, and special cameras were installed in certain police vehicles.  Results from the initiative were positive, as average speed appeared to have dropped.  Iceland was now preparing a similar year-round campaign against driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs.  A network of automatic speed cameras was also in the works, and would require both technical preparation and possibly new legislation.  Iceland would again be a sponsor of the resolution on road safety and encouraged other Member States to do the same.

MARCELO SUÁREZ SALVIA (Argentina) said statistics showed that road safety continued to be a genuine public health crisis, one that particularly affected the most vulnerable populations in developing countries.  Studies indicated that among the many factors affecting road safety, human, mechanical and infrastructure issues were the crucial ones.  Many sectors had an important role to play in preventing traffic accident deaths and injuries.  It was important to work together with civil society, the private sector and universities.  Funding to reduce traffic accident injuries was far from commensurate with the magnitude of the problem, and generally was insufficient to fund the necessary awareness campaigns and set up adequate methods to supervise, evaluate and monitor their results. 

He said that, under the Argentine Constitution, each province could promulgate its own traffic laws.  In order to avoid conflicting regulations, in 1995, the Argentine Congress passed a national traffic law, which allowed national authorities to exercise control over traffic matters, national routes, maintenance, control of concessions and weights.  To reach a solution to the road safety crisis, political will and commitment were essential.  The role of Member States was central to ensuring road safety. 

* *** *