Parliamentarians can play a crucial role in advancing road safety in their country. They can help to formulate effective national road safety policies and legislation; they can support adequate levels of funding for road injury prevention; they can promote oversight and accountability of government and public authorities on their road safety commitments; and they can engage with and represent the community to help make roads safe for all those they were elected to serve.
In adopting the SDGs, UN member states have made very significant national commitments, not least to road safety, and Parliamentarians can play a leadership role in securing their implementation. Indeed, the UN has strongly encouraged Parliamentarians to do so21. Furthermore, the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) supports mainstreaming the SDGs into the work of parliaments worldwide22 and is encouraging national self-assessments to benchmark performance on all the relevant targets. With road safety now included in the SDGs accompanied by a challenging casualty reduction target there has never been a better opportunity for Parliamentarians to take such action.
Political leadership in road safety is certainly a key ingredient to policy success. This is most likely to happen when there is strong high level engagement by senior government ministers, backed up by support in parliament. Frequently, individual Parliamentarians can serve as powerful agents for change and policy initiative. They can strongly represent the interests of communities that daily face the risk of road injury, they can provide leadership for specific road safety campaigns, and they can persuade governments to implement more effective policies. In the 1980s backbench, MPs in the UK led the final adoption of mandatory use of seatbelts which have since saved tens of thousands of lives. In 1996, Members of the European Parliament forced amendments to proposed EU crash test standards which resulted in the final adoption of much more stringent standards. Subsequently, these standards were adopted
by the UN and today are the benchmark for occupant safety regulations being applied around the world. In 2002, President Chirac of France declared a “fight against poor road safety” which led directly to much stronger enforcement of speed limits and drink-driving infringements, combined with greater investment in public awareness campaigns, all of which contributed to a substantial reduction in road fatalities.
A striking feature of all these examples of political leadership is that they succeeded in obtaining the widest support amongst Parliamentarians from different parties. This consensual approach not only helped secure better legislation at the time but sustained policy commitments even as leadership changed and new administrations took office. One way of building support for road safety in parliaments is to establish All Party Friends Groups (APFG).
Typically, an APFG will be formally recognised by the relevant parliament but are not official legislative committees. They have no statutory or legislative role but can serve as a focal point to promote discussion of a topical subject. APFG’s organise periodic meetings, seminars, or visits to raise awareness of their issue on a non-party political basis. A number of such groups dedicated to road safety have been established around the world. Examples include the Australian Parliamentary Friends of Road Safety23 and the United Kingdom’s (UK) Parliamentary Advisory Council on Road Safety24.
There is also considerable scope to improve cooperation between parliaments at regional and global levels. The task of implementing effective road safety policies and laws is complex and many countries have important experiences to share. The Global Network for Road Safety Legislators has been established to support this kind of exchange in best practice and to develop a global community of Parliamentarians inspired by the vision of a world entirely free from road fatalities and serious injuries.
In this work, we look forward to working closely with inter-parliamentary bodies such as the IPU and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. We welcome the IPU’s strong commitment to mobilise parliaments on the global development agenda. A key part of the IPU’s Strategy 2017-21 is support for ‘Health and Well Being’ and as part of this, we strongly encourage their engagement in road safety. Another strategic theme of the IPU supports inter-parliamentary dialogue and cooperation which also lends itself to stronger involvement in road safety.