Asked about resistance to lower speeds, Olga Algayerova, the executive secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, said 30 per cent of fatalities worldwide related to speed.
“We are people, we want to speed,” she said. “We are the only species on the planet that wants to destroy themselves,” she said.
The far-reaching declaration undertakes to halve the death toll of 1.35 million a year by 2030, although the current goal to reduce the road toll by 30 per cent fell short by as many as 600,000 deaths.
We are the only species on the planet that wants to destroy themselves.
Olga Algayerova, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe,
Road trauma disproportionately affects the poor, with around 90 per cent of road fatalities occurring in low to middle income countries. About 500 children die in road crashes every day, and road trauma is the leading cause of death for young people aged five to 29.
The declaration positions the impact of road trauma as a development issue that should be tackled with the United Nation’s broader sustainable development goals to lift people out of poverty, reduce inequality and guarantee the right to clean air and good health.
In a message to the conference, World Bank secretary-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the impact on the poor made “it even more of an injustice”.
“This is so unacceptable, because roads should be avenues to reach prosperity, better education and health services, not a means for disability and deaths,” he said.
The declaration also includes recommendations to encourage more people to ride and walk safely; to separate vulnerable users from high-speed traffic; introduce safer vehicles, such as those with autonomous braking systems; reduce emissions; and make government and the private sector report on their safety record throughout the supply chain.
It also calls for increased investment in infrastructure, such as divided roads, roundabouts and two plus one passing lanes that reduce the risk of death if a driver makes a mistake.
In the absence of investment in better roads, experts said the fastest way to cut fatalities would be to reduce speeds.
A 10 per cent reduction in mean speeds conservatively translated into a 40 per cent reduction in fatal crashes, said David Cliff, chief executive of the Global Roads Safety Partnership.
“Given one fatal crash can sometimes result in multiple casualties, reducing mean speed by 10 per cent would conservatively save 280,000 deaths a year,” he said. It could also have a similar impact on injuries.
The president of the Australasian College of Road Safety Martin Small said speed was at the centre of everything road safety advocates were trying to do.
“It drives the severity of the injury and it drives the outcome. So if you haven’t got a safe infrastructure to handle the higher speeds, you shouldn’t have the higher speeds limits that are universally the case in Australia.”
Professor Julie Brown, the head of the injury division at The George Institute for Global Health in Sydney, said if Australia was serious about a “truly safe system” it wouldn’t allow speeds of more than 70 km/h on roads that aren’t separated.
The declaration was based on recommendations by world safety experts, chaired by Sweden’s Professor Claes Tingvall, who is commonly known as the father of road safety.
Professor Tingvall said it represented a “modern way of way of tackling road safety” by taking a more holistic view, and tapping into increasing investor demands that companies had sustainable practices and tying procurement to promises to improve road safety.
“There’s no business if we are all dead,” said Professor Tingvall. “In the old days, we talked about rules and regulations,” he said. “Now we have to use the economic power we have. For example, understand that 10 to 20 per cent of GDP comes from public procurement.”
Julie Power attended the conference on a fellowship from the World Health Organisation.
Julie Power is a senior journalist at The Sydney Morning Herald.