“A very important concern we feel that is missing from these goals is one specifically focusing on road safety.”
May 2023 brings us the United Nations & World Health Organization’s 7th Annual Road Safety Week. This year’s focus is on sustainable transport, promoting walking, cycling and the us of public transport. This is tangentially connected to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Yet, despite poor road safety being the leading cause of death in young people, the United Nations has not highlighted this important topic as a separate goal within its plan.
During the WHO & UN’s Road Safety Week, we wish to appeal to the United Nations to make road safety one of their Sustainable Development Goals. We believe that this is a fundamental human right in the modern age, as well as directly connected to many of the other goals they wish to resolve.
UNITED NATIONS’ SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS
In 2015, the United Nations set out 17 Sustainable Development Goals as part of a 15-year plan. The aim of this was a global call to action against socio-economic and ecological issues such as climate change, inequality, poverty and injustice.
These goals are as follows:
● Goal 1: No Poverty
● Goal 2: Zero Hunger
● Goal 3: Good Health & Well Being
● Goal 4: Quality Education
● Goal 5: Gender Equality
● Goal 6: Clean Water & Sanitation
● Goal 7: Affordable & Clean Energy
● Goal 8: Decent Work & Economic Growth
● Goal 9: Industry, Innovation & Infrastructure
● Goal 10: Reduced Inequalities
● Goal 11: Sustainable Cities & Communities
● Goal 12: Responsible Consumption & Production
● Goal 13: Climate Action
● Goal 14: Life Below Water
● Goal 15: Life on Land
● Goal 16: Peace, Justice & Strong Institutions
● Goal 17: Partnerships
With now less than 7 years remaining to meet these goals by 2030, the UN has called for a more “ambitious global effort”. They have appealed to governments, communities and businesses to mobilize as part of their Decade of Action campaign. From these goals, one can see how many would directly impact the others. Rather than addressing these goals as individual concerns, a complete restructuring and development of socio-economic and ecological systems is required. Each goal contributes to the improvement of the lives of everyone and thus all points should be tackled together due to their synergistic and intertwined nature.
A very important concern we feel that is missing from these goals is one specifically focusing on road safety.
ROAD SAFETY: AN IMPORTANT FACTOR IN SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT
To quote the World Health Organization, “Road traffic injuries are the leading cause of death for children and young adults aged 5–29”. A topical theme behind the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, and many of their campaigns for future development, is the investment in future generations. To provide a better world for the children of tomorrow. Also, the intergenerational “passing of the baton” ensures that these goals continue to evolve as the world continues to change. It then becomes imperative that we counter the greatest threat to young people – greater than disease, natural disaster or famine. This becomes that much more relevant within the context of developing countries. These countries account for 93% of global road-related fatalities.
In developing countries, such as South Africa, socio-economic factors pose a barrier to effective road safety. Many of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals share an intrinsic relationship with road safety. For example, poverty, available, accessible and safe public transport, and lack of quality education all directly contribute to the high rates of road-related injuries and deaths. Addressing the individual goals that contribute to these high rates would certainly lead to a decrease in these numbers. The issue of road safety should be addressed alongside these factors as its own separate goal.
The theme of the UN & WHO’s Global Road Safety Week is #RethinkMobility, which aims to address sustainable transport. They wish to emphasize walking, cycling and public transport. But overlooks the fact that in developing countries, without greater societal or economic reform, these goals feel idealistic.
In South Africa, factors such as poverty, high crime rates and lack of education alongside the drive for sustainable mobility, a push for people to make use of walking or cycling only increases the risk of road-related injuries. In a population of 61 million people, there are an estimated 12 million cars on the road in South Africa. Additionally, the rate of car ownership is currently in decline. This is especially true of younger adults, many of whom simply cannot afford to own and maintain a vehicle. Due to this, there is an increasing number of people who rely on walking, cycling and public transport to get from Point A to
Point B. When people resort to cycling or walking as a means to an end, rather than a conscious social effort, it is often done so in an environment that has not provided support that bolsters road safety measures – whether in the form of education or redesigning infrastructure. This can lead to an increase in the number of road-related injuries.
In South Africa, safe public transport is not widely available, leaving 68% of the country relying heavily on minibus taxi services. While this form of transport is the most widespread and affordable, these services are loosely regulated with many taxi operators not adhering to road safety standards or laws. Minibus taxis, generally with the capacity to legally carry 15 passengers, contribute heavily to cases of major crashes, in which five or more people die in a single crash. In addition to this, a large portion of taxi owners are affiliated with gangs and taxi violence remains a hot topic in South Africa, often putting drivers and passengers at risk of becoming victims of violent crime.
THE GLOBAL PLAN FOR ROAD SAFETY
Within the Decade of Action campaign, the UN & WHO have collaborated on a 2030 Global Plan For Road Safety. This plan seeks to improve road safety by addressing several factors. This includes efforts to implement urban planning that is conducive to public transport and pedestrians, safer road infrastructure, higher standards for safe vehicle design, safe road use and improved post-crash response. For developing countries, the plan aims to provide a special focus on low- and middle-income countries, which as highlighted above, is desperately needed. This plan, if actioned efficiently, could contribute to greater overall road safety. The UN & WHO have taken road safety under greater consideration in the past few years. However, this only demonstrates further reason for the inclusion of road safety as a pillar of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Road safety, like many of the Goals listed, shares a link with the other highlighted goals – sometimes as a result of them, other times as a catalyst.
It is impossible to talk about road safety without the inclusion of wider socio-economic factors in the conversation. And to discuss the other goals without observing the impact that they have on road safety only results in turning a blind eye to an enormous risk to the well-being and lives of our young people. The same young people to whom we are entrusting to carry the torch for the future of our planet and global civilisation.
THE IMPACT ON ROAD SAFETY ACTIVISM
For NGOs and activists fighting for safer roads, including road safety within the Sustainable Development Goals rather than as a separate and isolated concern will allow our fight to be brought to a greater number of people, as it means inclusion in a much larger conversation. If it were framed as one facet of a multi-dimensional greater global problem, improvements in road safety would be further supported through activism aimed at tackling other goals. When engaging local governments and communities, if road safety was to be seen as a fundamental piece of the larger sustainability puzzle, this would give validity to activist campaigns for better road safety. This is especially true in developing countries where road safety might not be considered a high-priority concern on its own. Currently, road safety is ever so lightly touched upon under the UN’s Sustainable Development 11th Goal: Sustainable Cities & Communities. The problem with this is that it prioritises road safety within the context of those living within cities. However, in doing so, it ignores the plight of those living in rural areas – a percentage of the population that is far greater in developing countries. We would argue that these are the communities that would benefit most from improved efforts and awareness relating to road safety.
Sustainable Cities also focuses more on the negative impact of vehicles on the road in terms of pollution, but little addresses the direct impact of lacking road safety itself. In trying to find information on road safety within the Sustainable Development Goals, it should be noted that information on this was incredibly hard to find. This is a recurring problem we often run into when it comes to information regarding road safety. The first step in awareness and education should begin with the availability of information.
Allowing for the topic of road safety to be elevated to the same level of prominence as other pillars of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals will have numerous benefits. For road safety NGOs & activist groups, this would allow for a more accessible transfer of information, a point of reference, and greater awareness. These are fundamental elements when enacting change and securing the necessary funding to facilitate said changes. Furthermore, in order to secure funding from corporate companies as their avenue for Corporate Social Investment, the inclusion of road safety as its own dedicated pillar will allow for NGOs to connect with companies who have a direct interest in road safety. These interests can include logistics, the motoring industry, petroleum and so on. Companies will more likely invest in a cause that is beneficial to them and speaks directly to their needs, but also causes that are regarded with importance on a grander scale in order to be impactful.
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7th UN Road Safety Week takes place 15th-21st May 2023.