Despite the imperative of the UN Decade of Action, many UN Member States still have not implemented comprehensive national road injury prevention policies and plans and there are major gaps in related legislation. This is evident from the third Global Status Report on Road Safety published by the WHO in 201534. The report reveals that many countries have not done enough to implement known and effective road injury prevention policies and legislation that would help reduce their level of road deaths and injuries.
The WHO report warns that most countries do not meet best practice in laws on key behavioural risk factors, including speeding, drink–driving, non-use of motorcycle helmets, seatbelts and child restraints. Seatbelt laws that meet best practice by including rear seat passengers as well as front occupants apply in 105 countries. National helmet laws that apply to all drivers and passengers, to all engine types, and require the helmet to be properly fastened, are found in only 70 countries, while only 34 out of these countries also apply a helmet standard. Only 34 countries globally have national drink–driving laws in line with best practice (i.e., with a BAC of less than or equal to 0.05 g/dl as well as lower limits of less than or equal to 0.02 g/dl for young and novice drivers). Furthermore, the potential positive impact of these laws in many countries can be undermined by weak enforcement resulting from inadequate resources, administrative problems and corruption.
The Global Status Report also shows that a majority of countries do not yet apply the UN’s most important vehicle safety regulations. For example, less than 50 countries apply the crash protection standards for front and side impact or make the anti-skid device electronic stability control mandatory. Independent crash tests supported by the Global New Car Assessment Programme (Global NCAP) in India, South East Asia and Latin America have revealed that millions of new cars today sold in emerging markets are zero rated for safety and would fail to pass standards that have been mandatory for years in high income countries35. (See page 17).
The WHO also warns that roads continue to be designed and built without sufficient attention to the needs of the most vulnerable road users. Too often new road infrastructure is built using measures of efficiency that promote speed. As a result, pedestrians and cyclists are forced to share the road with high speed vehicles that expose them to avoidable danger. The Global Status Report found that, of 92 countries promoting walking and cycling, only 30 had urban speed laws in line with best practice. There are, however, guidelines available that would enable safety to be built into road nfrastructure rather than treated as an afterthought. The Global Street Design Guide, for example, provides design guidance that put people first and shift the parameters in favour of safety, accessibility and mobility for all road users36. Another important initiative is the ‘Three Star Coalition’ which is advocating that all roads in developing countries be built to a minimum three-star safety standard for all road users using the rating system of the International Road Assessment Programme (iRAP). (See page 25).
The WHO has now developed a comprehensive road safety technical package to galvanise stronger action by governments in support of the UN Decade and the SDGs. The core components of the Save LIVES technical package are Speed management, Leadership, Infrastructure design and improvement, Vehicle safety, Enforcement of traffic laws and post-crash Survival37. The technical package has 6 components and 22 evidence-based priority interventions (See Box 6) which, if systematically applied by all UN Member States, would help close the legislative gap that currently inhibits progress towards the SDG casualty reduction target.
An overarching priority of the package is a strong commitment to more effective speed management. In general terms, the higher the speed, the higher the crash risk and the greater severity of injuries in such a crash38. There is strong evidence that wherever motorised traffic mixes with vulnerable road users, such as pedestrians, cyclists and mopeds, the speed limit should be set at or under 30 km/h.
Another important WHO recommendation is the appointment of a lead agency with the authority and responsibility to make decisions, control resources, and coordinate the efforts of all sectors of government, including health, police and transport. The precise model for national lead agencies can vary from country to country but they will all benefit from strong and preferably bi-partisan support from parliamentarians and government ministers. In Jamaica, for example, successive Prime Ministers have served as Chairman of the country’s National Road Safety Council which has ensured a strong high level political commitment to road safety.
A vital role for a lead agency is also to ensure that there is a strong evidence base for their proposed measures. For this to happen, reliable data collection and analysis is necessary39. It will help document the nature and magnitude of the problem, determine which policy measures will be most effective, and how best to allocate resources and measure progress. Accurate injury surveillance systems and using internationally recognized definitions (such as the rule counting a road fatality as a person dying within 30 days of the incident) are vital to avoid underreporting and to ensure that true costs of road trauma are calculated. Good data measurement makes it more likely that good road safety management will follow.
WHO hopes the package will assist road safety decision-makers and practitioners to make sustained progress in reducing road traffic injuries in the next five years and beyond. And Parliamentarians can become leading champions for its implementation by using the package to review and benchmark their own country’s road safety performance and policies.
There is a wide body of expertise already available. For example, in 2013 the WHO published a resource manual to strengthen road safety legislation40 which describes methods for enacting new laws or amending existing ones relating to the key behavioural risk factors, as well as post-crash care. The manual can help parliamentarians and policymakers to review current national legislation and regulations and overcome barriers to the implementation of effective road safety measures, and identify available resources, and evidence-based guidance on effective measures, to improve legislation.
At first sight it may appear that implementing the WHO package would involve a complex process of developing new legislative proposals. However, many of the recommended interventions are based on existing UN standards available to all UN Member States through a series of conventions and legal agreements concerning road user behaviour, vehicles, and infrastructure managed by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE)41. Indeed, a major aim of the current UN Decade of Action is to encourage more countries to become contracting parties to these agreements and implement their safety requirements. This was recently reinforced in a Ministerial Declaration adopted by the UNECE in February 2017 which called on UN Member States “to take a safe-system approach, to contribute to the development of voluntary road safety targets and indicators and to reinforce their collective efforts to improve traffic safety in all inland modes of transport and in particular to take concerted and effective action to reduce road fatalities by half by 2020”42.
To ensure that the UN Decade of Action has a successful outcome it is critical that as many countries as possible use the Save LIVES package as a basis to reenergise their national road safety policies and update their legislation. This will help to accelerate road injury reduction by 2020 but also put in place a long lasting institutional and legislative framework that can achieve sustained progress in the ten years to 2030.