Global Road Safety Crisis

Published: 22 October 2003

Mr President,

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is taking the floor under this item to state its deep concern about the global road safety crisis.

In many cases, Red Cross / Red Crescent volunteers are the first to reach road crash sites where they provide First Aid, psychological support and ambulance services in many countries on a daily basis to crash victims in communities around the world. These communities and volunteers are deeply affected by the preventable tragedies they encounter every day. They strongly believe that this particular crisis, or disaster, if you like, can be drastically reduced. We, therefore, welcome the attention being given to this issue in the United Nations General Assembly, and trust that this will lead to concerted action at regional and national levels to address the issues identified in the Secretary-General's report (A/58/228).

The facts, as the report of the Secretary-General shows, are alarming. Road traffic injuries in 2000 led to the deaths of 1.26 million people, 25% of all deaths caused by injuries. Of even greater concern, road traffic injuries are the leading cause of death, worldwide, for persons aged between 15 and 44, disproportionately affecting low and middle income countries and the poor.

To give an indication of the cost of death and injuries on the road, it is noteworthy that national estimates place the cost at between 1 and 3 per cent of GDP, depending on the country. Worldwide, the estimated cost is a staggering US$ 518 billion. In transitional or developing countries, the cost of road traffic injuries is estimated at over US$ 100 billion – far more than the value of all development assistance provided to those countries.

As early as 1998, the International Federation was already raising the alarm. It published a study on “traffic accidents” in its World Disasters Report. This study asks, “Must millions more die from traffic accidents?” The central message here is that action needs to be taken by Governments, the private sector, civil society and the public at large to deal with this “disaster”.

In 1999 during the International Conference of the Red Cross / Red Crescent Movement, Governments and our National Societies committed themselves to a Plan of Action to respond to this growing problem through further development of road safety measures in partnership with other stakeholders.

The implementation of the Plan of Action leaves a lot to be desired particularly given the growing scale of this crisis. IFRC records show a reasonably good response by the National Societies, but less from governments. Although we are aware that each Government, however constrained it may be in skills, technology and resources, engages in road safety programmes, only six responded to the requirements of the General Assembly resolution 57/309 according to the Secretary-General's report. However, we would like to make a special note of the Oman authorities, and Austria and Ethiopia in collaboration with their respective National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, which have mounted active road safety campaigns. Another very valuable illustration of collaboration is the European Red Cross Road Safety Campaign, organised by 26 European Red Cross Societies and supported by the European Commission. It is an active and powerful campaign, originally launched in 2002, and hosted by the German Red Cross. {For those interested, further information can be obtained from its website,}

Mr. President,

The IFRC recognises that partnerships are a prerequisite to the achievement of real progress in addressing this crisis. For our part, we are particularly pleased with the partnership which has been developed to bring together the resources of the International Federation and its membership with the UK Department for International Development, the Swedish International Development Co-operation Agency, and, very importantly, the World Bank, WHO and the private sector. The result was the formation, in 1999, of the Global Road Safety Partnership (GRSP), which is hosted at the IFRC Secretariat in Geneva.

GRSP is an active global partnership dedicated to the improvement of road safety especially in developing countries through sharing of information and experience.

Mr. President,

The partnership of the United Nations and the World Health Organisation in the production of reports and documentation for this debate is welcomed by the IFRC and GRSP. We look forward to this institutional collaboration being taken to a new level in 2004, when World Health Day (April 7) will have road safety as its theme. We, and GRSP, are working actively with the WHO and the World Bank on the preparation of the key document the World Report on Road Traffic Injury Prevention to be launched on that day.

As part of that theme, we urge all governments to open dialogue with their National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to prepare for effective events to mark World Health Day and to support sustainable partnerships with both civil society and the private sector to address national road safety issues.

We strongly support the recommendations contained in the Secretary-General's report, and particularly that which calls for the identification of a co-ordinating body to facilitate and co-ordinate these activities in the United Nations and with multilateral agencies.

Furthermore, the IFRC will through its First Aid work take every appropriate opportunity to strengthen the capacity of communities to address the crisis we are debating today. In many respects, the work of the Red Cross / Red Crescent on First Aid provides the most human interface between the statistics of the crisis and its impact on the ordinary people.

Finally, Mr. President, we will continue to give these issues very high priority. We will continue to encourage States and National Societies to implement the 1999 International Red Cross Red Crescent Plan of Action. The commitments it contains will form part of our preparation for World Health Day 2004. We will also work to ensure that these activities and the proposed high-level UN debate next April are built into the co-ordinated work to be done in the multilateral family. We look forward to working with all concerned to find effective ways of addressing the terrible loss of life and resources which the global road traffic crisis has produced. As the old saying goes, "All roads are covered with good intentions". Let us work together to make these intentions a reality.

Thank you.