The UN’s aim to substantially reduce road traffic deaths and serious injuries is one part of a series of challenges to make our transport systems more sustainable. Population growth, rapid urbanisation and rising levels of motorisation generate interrelated social and environmental problems. This is recognised in the SDGs which simultaneously aim to tackle climate change, air pollution, and road injury.
There is a growing consensus that our mobility systems must become more accessible, cleaner, and safer. This was a central outcome of the New Urban Agenda49 adopted at the Habitat III conference held in October 2016 which includes a strong commitment to road safety (see box 8). Similarly the entry into force of the Paris climate change accord in November 2016 has given renewed impetus to reduce carbon emissions,inter alia, by improving vehicle fuel economy. As was made clear at the UN’s first-ever Global Sustainable Transport Conference, held in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, in November 2016, an integrated approach is needed to better balance the important benefits of motor vehicle use with the serious costs associated with air pollution, carbon emissions, and road injury50.
Habitat III New Urban Agenda – the Quito Declaration and Road Safety
113. We will take measures to improve road safety and integrate it into sustainable mobility and transport infrastructure planning and design. Together with awareness-raising initiatives, we will promote the safe-system approach called for in the Decade of Action for Road Safety, with special attention to the needs of all women and girls, as well as children and youth, older persons and persons with disabilities and those in vulnerable situations. We will work to adopt, implement and enforce policies and measures to actively protect and promote pedestrian safety and cycling mobility, with a view to broader health outcomes, particularly the prevention of injuries and non-communicable diseases, and we will work to develop and implement comprehensive legislation and policies on motorcycle safety, given the disproportionally high and increasing numbers of motorcycle deaths and injuries globally, particularly in developing countries. We will promote the safe and healthy journey to school for every child as a priority.
Just as road safety requires a paradigm shift to a Safe System so there are calls for a similar conceptualshift in transport. The traditional response to increased motorisation has been to provide additional infrastructure.However, with the world’s motor vehicle fleet forecast to double over the next decade, this accommodative approach is no longer feasible. An alternative concept known as ‘Avoid-Shift-Improve’ is now widely endorsed, most recently by the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Advisory Group on Sustainable Transport51 as the best strategy to follow.
‘Avoid-Shift-Improve’ seeks to reshape the structure of both demand and supply for transport away from inefficient or avoidable travel, through a combination of better urban planning, modal shift and technology innovation. This offers the potential to reshape urban environments in ways that prioritise people rather than vehicles and promote a combination of public and non-motorised transport promoting healthy life styles as well as better air quality. It is striking how similar this strategy is to the Safe System approach which aims to avoid, redirect and reduce uncontrolled crash forces to reduce the risk of injury.
The synergies between these two strategies are clear and the new impetus in support of sustainable transport offers great potential to scale up the global effort to reduce road deaths and serious injuries. Integrating road injury prevention with measures to promote fuel economy and air quality offers multiple co-benefits. Better speed management, for example, is a well proven measure to lower rates of road traffic injury but which also result in improved vehicle fuel economy and emissions control, and reduced congestion and noise.