It is very fitting that the launch of the Commonwealth Road Safety Initiative is being held during the 5th United Nations Global Road Safety Week. If there is one single tragic fact about road safety that should capture all our attention it is this. Road traffic injuries are now the leading cause of death for children and young people aged 5 to 29 years.
It is the most natural human instinct to protect our children and yet today we expose them to the greatest risk of lethal injury on our roads. In support of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, much is being done – and rightly so – to protect under-fives from the risk of malnutrition and life-threatening diseases, and yet relatively speaking far less effort has been made to make our roads as safe as possible for children and young people.
We are now in the last two years of the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety and still every day 3,700 people are killed in road crashes and tens of thousands more a seriously injured. The best that can be said of the outcome of the UN Decade so far is that we are seeing some stabilization in the number of road fatalities. Given increased levels of population and motorisation, halting the previous rise in traffic deaths is a significant achievement. It shows that the Decade has been worthwhile. But it is still well below the target set by Sustainable Development Goals to halve road deaths by 2020, which unfortunately will not now be reached.
Next February the Swedish Government is hosting the 3rd Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety in Stockholm. This important meeting will review the outcome of the UN Decade of Action and set out new priorities for road injury prevention up to 2030. It will be followed by a special debate in the UN General Assembly at which it is hoped a fresh global commitment to implement effective, evidence- based road injury prevention plans will be made by all UN member States.
I was honoured in 2018 to be able to represent the British Government at the last UN General Assembly debate. In my speech I proposed a new three-point plan for global road safety. I called for a new target to halve road deaths and serious injuries by 2030; for more resources to be invested in making roads, vehicles, and road users safer; and for stronger political commitment to traffic safety. Leadership is needed to implement such a plan. And this is where I believe the Commonwealth has the opportunity to play a leading role.
The Commonwealth brings together 53 countries with very diverse road safety experiences. It contains some of the world’s best performers and others that are not doing so well. But all face a shared challenge to reduce road deaths and injuries. The average age of the Commonwealth is under 30. And the Commonwealth Secretariat, led by Baroness Scotland has already included youth, health, and sustainable development among the organisation’s major priorities. So, there is really no question that road injuries, which are so tragically taking the lives of too many children and young people, needs to be higher on the Commonwealth agenda.
That is why I am delighted that the Towards Zero Foundation, which I have the honour to serve as patron, is launching the Commonwealth Road Safety Initiative. The aim is to set out clear recommendations on how Commonwealth countries reduce their level of road casualties and demonstrate leadership on this much neglected global issue. The Initiative has brought together an impressive expert panel from across the Commonwealth under the joint Chairmanship of Professor Agnes Binagwaho of Rwanda and Iain Cameron from Australia. Many of the panel members are here this evening and Iain Cameron will give a presentation on their work in a few moments.
They have a busy few months ahead of them as their final report will be released here in London on December 9th. Next year will be very important for global road safety with major decisions to be taken about the priorities for road injury prevention for the next ten years. The theme of the UN Global Road Safety Week is leadership and the need for all of us to speak up for road safety. That is what I urge the Commonwealth to do in the decade ahead. Commonwealth countries can speak up for road safety at the Stockholm Ministerial meeting in February. They can speak up for road safety at the UN General Assembly. And Commonwealth leaders can speak up for road safety at their own Heads of Government meeting in Rwanda next June. And if they follow up their words with action they will ensure that road injury is no longer the number killer of the Commonwealth’s most precious resource, its own children and young people.
HRH Prince Michael of Kent