High-Level Meeting on Global Road Safety (Opening Segment, Plenary Segment) - General Assembly, 90th Plenary Meeting, 76th Session

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30-Jun-2022 02:53:27
At high-level session, General Assembly unanimously adopts resolution on improving global road safety, stresses commitment to reduce fatalities in half by 2030.

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Adopting a sweeping political declaration on global road safety, the General Assembly today committed to a range of actions aimed at reducing road traffic deaths — 90 per cent of which occur in the world’s low- and middle-income countries — by at least 50 per cent by the year 2030.

Unanimously adopting the text titled “Political declaration of the high-level meeting on improving global road safety”, the 193-member Assembly committed to drive the implementation of the Global Plan for the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2021–2030, whose goal is to halve road traffic deaths in the next eight years. Acknowledging the importance of adequate, predictable, sustainable and timely international financing for that goal, it also committed to promoting capacity-building, knowledge-sharing, technical support and technology transfer programmes in the area of road safety, especially in developing countries.

By the terms of the declaration, the Assembly committed to implement a “safe system” approach — namely, policies that foster safe urban and rural road infrastructure design and engineering — and to adopt evidence-based good practices for addressing key risk factors, such as the non-use of seat belts, child restraints and helmets, and driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs. Members also agreed to strengthen international cooperation on road safety through the sharing of good practices, successful implementation mechanisms and technical standards. In addition, they decided to convene a high-level meeting in 2026 on improving global road safety, in order to undertake a comprehensive midterm review of the political declaration’s implementation.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, in opening remarks, declared: “Road accidents are a silent epidemic stalking us.” Each year, 1.3 million people die on the road and 50 million are seriously injured. Road accidents are the leading cause of death in the world among young people aged 5 to 29, and 9 out of 10 victims live in low- or middle-income countries. “This tragedy is all the more unacceptable as many of these deaths could very well have been avoided,” he said, noting that road fatalities are closely linked to poor infrastructure, unplanned urbanization, lax social protection and health-care systems and persistent inequalities.

Referring to Sustainable Development Goal target 3.6, he said the international community’s aim is clear: cut road traffic deaths and injuries by half by 2030 and promote sustainable mobility with safety at its core. Awareness-raising is critical to achieving that target, as is ambitious and urgent action, increased financing for sustainable and safe infrastructure, and a more holistic approach to road safety. “This means better integrating road safety in national policies — from education, health and transport to climate mitigation, land-use planning and disaster response,” he said, urging all Member States to accede to United Nations road safety conventions and implement whole-of-society action plans with a strong prevention approach.

Stewart Simonson, Assistant Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), delivered an opening address on behalf of Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus. Describing the world’s transport systems as critically useful but “far too dangerous, polluting and wasteful”, he said the increasing motorization of transport systems also brings the risk of death and injury, rising greenhouse gas levels, air pollution and fossil fuel reliance. Pedestrians and cyclists — often the most disadvantaged members of society — are on the roads alongside high-speed traffic, substantially increasing the risk of road traffic crashes. “This is too high a price to pay for mobility,” he stressed, calling for efforts to put safety at the core of transport systems as an urgent moral imperative.

Against that backdrop, he noted that WHO’s Global Plan for the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2021-2030 calls for a comprehensive, balanced and achievable approach to improving the safety of roads. It promotes safe walking, cycling and public transport, calls for action to manage speed, and emphasizes the importance of road infrastructure design, vehicle safety standards and legislation as key ways to prevent deaths and injuries. Also underscoring the need for strengthened health sectors and just responses for victims and their families, he said today’s meeting is another timely and important step, as Governments and leaders at all levels have an important role to play in improving the design of urban environments and transport systems and making roads safe.

Jean Todt, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Road Safety, said the world gained much experience during the first Decade of Action for Road Safety, which began in 2010. “But even today, road traffic crashes represent a leading cause of death and injury around the world […] with 90 per cent of those casualties occurring in developing countries,” he said. Both action and delivery are needed to address that invisible and pervasive threat, he stressed, welcoming the increase in funding for road safety in recent years. However, more work is needed. Recalling his long career as a professional motor racer, he said measuring success in road safety is not as easy as determining who won a race. “We cannot know so easily whose lives we have saved — these might even include some of us here today,” he said. Instead, what is certain is when a life has been lost to a road crash.

He went on to cite the “unacceptable discrepancy” between progress made on road safety in developed and developing countries, noting that over the last 45 years, Europe has increased the number of vehicles on its roads by five times but seen three times fewer accident victims. Meanwhile, in developing nations, both the number of vehicles and victims is growing. Africa, for instance — with only 2 per cent of the world’s vehicles — has the highest road crash fatality rate in the world. Noting that both complex and simple solutions exist, he said both require broad engagement early in the process of planning cities and roads. Many global goals and targets are closely linked, he said in that regard, citing the need to fight climate change, build sustainable cities, improve education, protect child health and promote human rights.

Abdulla Shahid (Maldives), President of the General Assembly, described the statistics on road safety as both daunting and disturbing. “This trend can change, and this trend must change,” he said. Calling for efforts to build political will for concrete actions that save lives, he said that, for far too long, the world has viewed some level of road fatalities as acceptable. “No deaths on our streets are acceptable,” he countered, stressing that safety is a right of every human being. In that context, the Global Plan of Action calls for a fundamental shift in how the world views mobility, and its safe systems approach recognizes road transport as a complex system that requires safety at its core.

Emphasizing that all stakeholders involved in building roadways must be involved in designing safe systems, he urged Governments to endorse the Global Plan of Action and urgently act on its recommendations, which include putting forward their own detailed plans of action, ensuring sustainable financing and putting in place gender-sensitive and non-discriminatory practices. Transformative leadership and good governance are critical, as Governments must set up, lead and maintain broad, inclusive coordination mechanisms for road safety. They must also provide legal frameworks and funding, and leverage existing mechanisms in the transport sector for better results. The safe systems approach also calls for the engagement of all segments of broader society, including women and young people, he said, noting that the latter are disproportionately affected by road accidents.

Throughout the day — which is the first of a two-day high-level event — dozens of speakers took the floor to outline national efforts aimed at reducing road traffic casualties, in line with the United Nations Global Action Plan. Delegations broadly agreed that no level of roadway deaths is acceptable, and called for urgent, united action by Governments and other partners. Some cited links between road safety and sustainable development, especially emerging green technologies and improved urban design. Meanwhile, others pointed to the vast discrepancy in roadway fatalities between developed and developing nations, calling for a broader sharing of technology and more robust international support for the latter’s efforts to reduce traffic deaths.

François Bausch, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister for Defence and Minister for Mobility and Public Works of Luxembourg, said road safety remains a crisis even amid all of today’s other global challenges. The vast majority of road deaths throughout the world occur in low- and middle-income countries, he said, describing the statistics as unacceptable. Europe faced a similar situation in the 1970s, with road deaths rising dramatically, largely from high-speed driving or drinking and driving. While road infrastructure is often seen as being mostly about cars, it should in fact be multimodal with secure spaces for pedestrians, cyclists and cars. “This is especially true in urban areas where the most vulnerable infrastructure users are present,” he said, also calling for efforts to slow down traffic, reorganize public spaces and raise awareness that “public space is for everyone”. In that regard, he outlined Luxembourg’s national efforts to improve road safety, which included establishing two back-to-back action plans with a focus on preventive, educational and enforcement measures.

Audley Shaw, Minister for Transport and Mining of Jamaica, said his country has not been spared the destructive effects of road crashes, and has seen a steady increase in fatality rates since 2012. Noting that the socioeconomic impact of such casualties on developing States is devastating, he said the Government is committed to the United Nations goal to halve road fatalities by 2030. The work of the Organization’s Road Safety Fund to support that endeavour is critical, as it leverages fiscal and technical cooperation to fund strategic road safety interventions to improve the road infrastructure, transport management, public education and post-crash care, he said.

Jacob Hlangabeza Hara, Minister for Transport of Malawi, described road traffic deaths and injuries as a major public health crisis in his country. In pursuit of the objectives of the Global Plan, Malawi has therefore put in place measures including the establishment of a Multisectoral National Road Safety Strategy; baseline studies on drinking and driving and seat belt use; improved road infrastructure design; improvements in post-crash services; and plans to accede to the United Nations Convention on Road Traffic by 2024. Voicing the country’s commitment to developing and implementing national targets to reduce fatalities and serious injuries by at least 50 per cent by 2030, he agreed that “the time to act is now”, adding: “The intolerable death and injury toll gives the global community the impetus to do things differently.”

Aishath Nahula, Minister for Transport and Civil Aviation of the Maldives, said mobility plays a vital role in all aspects of human life. Safe and efficient road transport systems are critical, as they improve access to food, education, employment and health-care services. Spotlighting the disproportionate impact of road traffic fatalities on low- and middle-income countries — and the resulting economic losses — she also stressed the need to encourage sustainable transport choices that help reduce harmful vehicle emissions. “Climate change is this century’s defining threat,” she said, adding that it poses a grave threat to small island developing States such as the Maldives. Also noting that improving road safety is a shared responsibility, she called for leadership and clear lines of institutional responsibility and accountability, adding: “The politics of a nation should not stand in the way of policies leading to safer communities.”

Guillermo Dietrich, Minister for Transport of Argentina, said his country has taken significant action to reduce the rate of fatalities on its roads, resulting in road fatality statistics that are a full 25 per cent lower than the global statistics cited today. The country coordinates closely with WHO, the Pan-American Health Organization and non-governmental organizations in such areas as prevention, outreach and road checks, and works closely with local jurisdictions to ensure that road safety is part of educational curricula. It also prioritizes outreach and support to the most vulnerable segments of society and has created a federal victim care network, he said.

Wee Ka Siong, Minister for Transport Malaysia, said motorcycle fatalities account for more than half of the annual total fatalities from road crashes in his country. The country is currently exploring the adoption of enhanced vehicle safety technology and has welcomed the positive impact of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ (ASEAN) New Car Assessment Programme. His country has been undertaking the International Road Assessment Programme since 2016, and it is now putting in place a more focused programme for motorcycle safety under the Malaysia Road Assessment Programme, which includes dedicated lanes for motorcycles on newly constructed roads, he said, noting that all those efforts have been institutionalised in the Malaysia Road Safety Plan (2022-2030).

Magdalene Ajani, Permanent Secretary at the Federal Ministry of Transportation of Nigeria, said that as Africa’s most populous nation — with an estimated 205,000 kilometres of road network and about 11.8 million registered vehicles — her country is faced with many road-related challenges. The ever-growing population of over 200 million, coupled with rapid urbanization and increasing commercial and economic activities, means rising vehicular conflict and congestion, which adversely affect mobility. In response, the Government has taken a holistic approach to road safety, including by acceding to six United Nations Conventions and Agreements on Road Traffic, creating a Federal Road Safety Commission, embracing regional road safety development under the West African Road Safety Organization, conducting regular safety inspections and audits and adding road safety studies to educational curricula.

Tomas Eneroth, Minister for Infrastructure of Sweden, declared: “We must inject a sense of urgency in our road safety ambitions.” In an increasingly polarized world, “we need more multilateral arenas for collaboration, not less”, he stressed, welcoming the Assembly’s consensus on the Political Declaration adopted today. Since adopting its Vision Zero policy in 1997, Sweden has seen significant reductions in traffic fatalities. That success is based on three approaches, he said, noting that it has designed its transport system in a way that takes human errors into account, meaning that “you can make mistakes without being killed or seriously injured”. Secondly, the system was designed in close collaboration with the private sector, academia and civil society, as road safety is a shared responsibility. Third, Sweden has embraced technology and innovation, and its vehicle manufacturers work closely with others to innovate solutions for safer and more sustainable vehicles.

James Macharia, Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure, Housing and Urban Development of Kenya, said road traffic crashes are among the leading causes of death in his country. The Government is committed to promoting road safety, in line with goals of the United Nations Decade of Action. Pointing out that one important element of improving road safety is timely and accurate data, he said Kenya has established a data system that contributes to the development of evidence-based policy. In addition, all roads in Kenya are subjected to design, construction and post-construction audits and assessments, aimed at ensuring that they incorporate critical road safety features. Meanwhile, corrective measures are also applied where needed, and include the construction of foot bridges and other mitigating features. He also welcomed the support provided to his country by the United Nations Road Safety Fund, which has helped to finance roadway safety elements for cyclists and pedestrians.

Lithuania’s representative, speaking on behalf of a group of States, condemned the unjustifiable, unprovoked aggression launched by the Russian Federation against Ukraine, which has damaged more than 23,000 kilometres of road infrastructure in that country since February. Calling for Moscow’s immediate and unconditional withdrawal from Ukraine’s internationally recognized territory, he condemned any indiscriminate shelling or other use of force that destroys critical civilian infrastructure, including roads and bridges. Also voicing concern over reported fatal traffic accidents caused by Russian soldiers in areas held by the Russian Federation, he underscored the importance of work to promote road safety as a critical component of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals around the globe.

The representative of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, welcomed explicit efforts to reduce road deaths and injuries by at least 50 per cent in the current decade. “We must now use the momentum to push for real international commitment and implementation on road safety,” he said, adding that the Union takes its responsibilities seriously and believes the international focus must be on support for developing countries, “where apart from the tragic human costs, poor road safety is also causing a significant economic burden”. The bloc provides funding for road safety initiatives throughout the world, in particular Africa. Announcing an additional multi-year contribution, amounting to a total of €1 million, to the United Nations Road Safety Fund, he also described investments in strategic trade corridors in sub-Saharan Africa to create sustainable, smart and safe networks in all modes of transport.

Iran’s representative said his country has reduced its number of road accident fatalities by nearly 39 per cent in the last two decades thanks to planning efforts in road safety engineering, law enforcement, better rescue and medical services and education. Among other things, Iran integrated its traffic safety management under the National Road Safety Commission, partnered with the United Nations Road Safety Fund, developed a national action plan and established an accident data bank for information sharing. The Government is working with WHO to implement a speed management project along three major routes. He added that developed countries are duty-bound to provide developing States with vehicle manufacturing technologies and medical emergency and rescue capacities, to help them save more lives.

The representative of the Russian Federation also spoke in explanation of position after the Assembly’s adoption of the Political Declaration, expressing support for the text but voicing regret that the Assembly was unable to adopt a more “voluminous” declaration. He said the document adopted fails to reflect a full range of relevant subjects, including information, education, emphasis on vulnerable people, speed limits, financing, advanced technology and research, help for victims and the contributions of the private sector. The responsibility for that failure lies with a group of countries that blocked the text for absurd reasons, and failed to respect the work done by other States on the subject of road safety. The result is that road safety progress continues to be obstructed, most prominently in developing countries, he said.

Also speaking were Government Ministers, Cabinet Secretaries, Members of Parliament and other high-level representatives of Cambodia, Burkina Faso, Dominican Republic, Mozambique, Paraguay, Armenia, Republic of Moldova, El Salvador, Bahrain, Thailand, Angola, Spain, the Russian Federation, Türkiye, Qatar, Romania, United Arab Emirates, Brazil, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Chile, Suriname, Morocco, Mexico, Peru, China, Egypt, Nepal, Eritrea, Uzbekistan, India, Italy, Ukraine, Algeria, Iraq, Slovakia, Senegal, Tunisia, South Africa, Uganda, Syria, Philippines, United States, Ecuador, Republic of Korea, Greece, Viet Nam, Indonesia, Poland, Cuba and Croatia.

The representative of the Russian Federation spoke in exercise of the right of reply.

The Assembly will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Friday, 1 July, to continue its high-level meeting on road safety.

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