By Lisa Söderlindh
The Mexican Red Cross has committed itself to the national goal of saving more than 60,000 lives, preventing 110,000 disabilities and three million hospitalizations caused by road accidents.
Hundreds of national and international ministers, chief executives and representatives of civil society and the private sector have gathered in Mexico City to launch the Decade of Action for Road Safety and the Second Ibero- American and Caribbean Forum on Road Safety (EISEVI 2). Meanwhile, young people and other volunteers of the Mexican Red Cross are implementing a range of activities in 180 cities across the country, including the collection of 100,000 signatures of people committing themselves to taking more care on the roads.
Daniel Goñi, President of the Mexican Red Cross, says: “The high rate of road crashes poses a serious public health problem in our country and disproportionally affects our children and youth. The most affected group is at the same time our strongest means to curb the disastrous trend – our youth and volunteers will remain the key to saving lives and contributing to national road safety prevention targets.”
Mario Hugo Galindo is a young volunteer from the Mexican Red Cross Youth who survived a car crash. He is today active in implementing the National Society’s road safety programme, which was developed in 2007 in response to the growing problem of traffic accidents. “When I was 15 years old, my friends and I were driving home along Reforma Avenue in Mexico City after an evening out,” he says. “We were hit by a car, speeding at 120kph and driving against a red light. Two of my friends died and a third was left unable to walk. I myself was injured and couldn’t go to school for more than one and a half years.”
Surviving a car crash could itself be viewed as a stroke of luck in a country where more than 20 million motor vehicles cram the roads, and where traffic accidents are the top cause of death among people aged five to 35, with an annual average of more than 24,000 deaths, according to the National Council for Accident Prevention (CONAPRA).
Andrew Pearce, Chief Executive of the Global Road Safety Partnership (GRSP) emphasized the need to rethink the relationship between roads and people: “A family car travelling at 70kph carries about the same energy as 40 rifle bullets. That is what we have introduced to humanity: an invisible danger as deadly as fired bullets,” he says. “We have also created a culture with a skewed acceptance towards dying on the road by introducing a hazard that kills without putting in place the proper control mechanisms. We do not accept this in a factory or in air transport. We should neither do so when it comes to the roads.”
The Global Road Safety Partnership, a hosted project of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, (IFRC), is a partnership of business, governments and civil society organizations that works to reduce road death and injury in low- and middle-income countries, where, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) 90 percent of all road traffic deaths and injuries occur.
The persistence of dangerous behaviour and low risk awareness continues to add up to deaths and injuries that could be avoided.
After a week-long road safety campaign carried out by the Mexican Red Cross Youth in April 2010, the National Society recorded weekly drop from 4,376 to 3,274 traffic injuries, or a 25 percent reduction in the number of injured.
More than 667,000 children and young people are estimated to have been reached with road safety services since the programme was launched in 2007.
The programme, which has been commended by the CONAPRA and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) in the 2010 National Forum of Good Practices in Road Safety, is planned and implemented throughout the country by more than 6,000 Red Cross volunteers. It includes prevention activities such as information and awareness raising campaigns, national workshops and educational events with a focus on improving use of motor-cycle helmets and reducing drinking and driving.
Claudia Corona Hernandez, Head of Training Department of the Mexican Red Cross Youth Department says changing mindsets is crucial. “The goal of reaching children and young people is to raise awareness; encourage thinking about the consequences of careless driving; and generate good habits and patterns that determine future behaviour,” she says.
Ximena Calderon, a youth volunteer of the Mexican Red Cross says: “The success of our road safety programme depends on the fact that all interventions are designed by youths for youths, and by children for children.”
Approximately 2,500 volunteers, annually trained at the National College of Emergency Medical Technicians, founded by the National Society in 1983 to respond to the need for professional volunteer paramedics, and an annual expenditure of 79 million USD on ambulance services further allows the National Society to be on the spot in eight of every ten cases where paramedic services and pre-hospital trauma care is needed following road crashes.