Mobilizing the National Societies in the name of road safety

Published: 12 May 2011 17:03 CET

By Lisa Söderlindh

The Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies worldwide are committed to addressing road safety over the next ten years by encouraging young people to act responsibly and calling on governments and the international community to include first aid and road safety in education curricula. This commitment to improving road safety, made in 2009 at the World Red Cross and Red Crescent Youth Meeting and integrated into the Solferino Youth Declaration, is directly linked to the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety.

Xavier Castellanos, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies’ (IFRC) Director of Americas Zone, said National Societies have a key role in reducing the number of people killed or injured on the roads. “The 186 Red Cross Red Crescent National Societies, fronted by millions of volunteers with their unique ability to reach vulnerable people and communities, can be a key partner in making the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety a success,” he said. “Road safety is increasingly making its way onto the radar of governments in the region, and our youth and volunteers have a starring role in this global quest for saving lives on the roads.”

The Red Cross Society in Peru, where rates of road fatalities rank among the highest in the region, is preparing to implement road safety activities in two of the most affected cities, Lima and Arequipa, targeting over 40,000 school teachers and children with educational activities. Coordination within the Ministries of Transport, Education and Health, is also being strengthened for improved efficiency.

Red Cross National Societies in Guyana and Costa Rica also serve as an example of growing collaborative efforts in road safety. The former has developed a three year strategic plan with the National Road Safety Council, while the latter is a member of many local road safety councils.

Activities implemented across the region by National Societies include first aid courses to professional and public transport drivers, and the promotion of road safety culture.

Urban road safety

Road safety is one of the most important issues to emerge from our increasingly urban lives. The same transport systems that lead to mobility and greater independence can also cause death and permanent disabilities, leaving thousands of families impoverished every day.

Nelson Castano, IFRC Disaster Risk Management Coordinator for the Americas, said changing lifestyles and increasing urbanization is not restricted to countries such as Mexico, where 95 per cent of road deaths happen in cities. “Road safety features must make its way into land-use and urban planning for more sustainable solutions that also address the issue of environmental pollution. Urbanization and mobility of urban residents, resulting in increased energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, is not only fuelling climate change but negatively affecting the well-being of urban residents.”

“Mapping vulnerable road users at greatest risk should be a key component in building safer and more resilient communities, just as assessment of vulnerabilities and hazards is at the very core of disaster risk reduction work,” continues Nelson.

The global campaign implemented by the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) in partnership with IFRC, lists ten essentials for urban resilience; among them are risk assessment and risk‐compliant building regulations, concepts that can also be applied to road safety.

Ricardo Mena, Head of the Regional office of UNISDR, Americas, said: “If you build a house in a seismic zone, without building permits and using seismic-resistant building codes and norms, you will end up with a house that is likely to collapse if an earthquake occurs. Place a driver, who has not learned to drive, in a car that has not undergone adequate safety checks, on a poorly built road in a country where legal frameworks are absent, and see what will happen.”

Education and prevention programs formed in partnership with law enforcement are “essentials that need to gain increased commitment in a region where corruption and low compliance with rules remain the critical factors to road crashes,” continues Mena, also pointing out that the political will and funding levels don’t match the magnitude of the problem. “Increased public investment needs to be channelled to those areas where road crashes occur frequently.”

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