UN launches new fund on road safety, as deaths continue to climb

The United Nations Mission in South Sudan and the South Sudan Boda-Boda Association launched a “Ride for Peace, Ride for Safety” campaign to highlight the safety issues that commercial motorcycle riders face, as well as to improve their situation on the streets. Photo by: Isaac Billy / U.N.

UNITED NATIONS — A new United Nations trust fund on road safety launched Thursday, in a bid to address the growing number of road traffic injuries and deaths in developing countries.

About 1.3 million people die from road traffic injuries each year, in addition to 50 million more who are injured. Road traffic deaths have increased by 13 percent globally since 2000, according to U.N. figures. An estimated 90 percent of these deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, with most of them taking place in sub-Saharan Africa.

The road safety fund — which received a kickstarter donation of $10 million from the FIA Foundation for the Automobile and Society, a foundation that contributes to road safety efforts — will work to refocus national road safety budgets and unlock additional country and city investment.

Road traffic injuries are among the biggest threats to sustainable development and human life, Jean Todt, the U.N. secretary-general’s special envoy for road safety, told reporters on Thursday. One Sustainable Development Goals target intends to halve the number of global deaths and injuries from road traffic by 2020.

Developed and developing countries have two different realities when it comes to decreasing road traffic deaths, said Todt.

“We are facing two issues. In developed world, figures have been dropping for 45 years. If you take the example of France, in 1970 you have 18,000 people dying on the road. Now, with three times more vehicles on the road we have seen a drop to 3,500 deaths per year,” he said in response to a Devex question.

“But in developing countries, the trend is increasing. And simply because you have more vehicles, more users, and vehicles that should be to the right standards,” Todt said.

The number of vehicles on the road nearly doubled between 2000 and 2013, according to the U.N., playing into one of the major causes of road traffic accidents in quickly growing urban areas across developing countries.

Prevention mechanisms are “easy,” Todt said, consisting of education, law enforcement, vehicle standards, infrastructure improvement, and post-crash care. The costs of accidents are acute, accounting for a $1.85 trillion burden on the global economy, Todt said.

And countries that do not invest in road safety could lose between 7 and 22 percent in potential per capita growth over a 24-year period, according to a recent report by the World Bank and Bloomberg Philanthropies. Lack of investment could result in more than 1.2 million deaths a year.

More people die each year from road traffic accidents than people who have contracted malaria (estimated 429,000 deaths), and people who die from AIDS-related illnesses (1 million).

The launch of the new trust fund came as the General Assembly considered a draft resolution, which recognizes that at “the current rate of progress, the SDG target 3.6 to halve, by 2020, the number of global deaths and injuries from road traffic accidents will not be met.”

The trust fund is only a start, as the FIA Foundation estimates that at least $770 million per year will be required to meet the SDG target on reducing traffic accidents.

“Traffic accidents are the number one cause of death of young people and are responsible for keeping millions of people in poverty each year,” U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said in remarks to the General Assembly. “Looking ahead, it is important to recognize the projected increase in urbanization, motorization, infrastructure development, and vehicle ownership around the world. We must put in place measures to prevent road traffic fatalities and injuries continuing to take a rising toll.”

About the author

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    Amy Lieberman

    Amy Lieberman is the New York Correspondent for Devex. She covers the United Nations and reports on global development and politics. Amy previously worked as a freelance reporter, covering the environment, human rights, immigration, and health across the U.S. and in more than 10 countries, including Colombia, Mexico, Nepal, and Cambodia. Her coverage has appeared in the Guardian, the Atlantic, Slate, and the Los Angeles Times. A native New Yorker, Amy received her master’s degree in politics and government from Columbia’s School of Journalism.