Road deaths set to soar unless transport policies change radically

Make Roads Safe campaign predicts that India, alone, could add 90,000 deaths by 2016 if governments don’t act swiftly

Annie Kelly., Thursday 14 February 2013 12.40 GMT

Road deaths will dramatically increase in the world’s poorest countries unless governments and multilateral development banks swiftly and radically overhaul their transport policies, according to a new report.

Already, 1.3 million people lose their lives on the world’s roads every year, with road accidents now one of the leading causes of death in the developing world. 

In its new report, the Make Roads Safe campaign, a global coalition co-ordinated by the FIA Foundation, warns that deaths will see a “relentless increase” if sustainable transport policies are not put at the heart of debates on development after the millennium goals expire in 2015.

The rising death toll will largely affect the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people. According to India’s National Crime Records Bureau, there are about 134,000 recorded road deaths in the country every year. The Make Roads Safe campaign predicts that India could add 90,000 deaths by 2016 if transport policies remain unchanged.

“The message we must take from this report is that road safety is one of the biggest development challenges facing the international community,” said the report’s author Kevin Watkins, from the Brookings Institution.

“The basic problem is that road and transport planners in developing countries and the powerful multilateral development banks continue to think of transport systems as a question of journey times, speed and cost, and neglect to put people first.”

Despite the criticism, multilateral development banks say efforts are being made to ensure that sustainable transport is considered central to any new infrastructure projects funded by bank loans. At the UN’s Rio+20 conference on sustainable development in June, eight of the world’s largest development banks announced they were to jointly invest $175bn in sustainable transportation systems over the coming decade.

“At the World Bank, we are committed to working on road safety as part of our strategy for safe, clean and affordable transport for development,” said Jose Luis Irigoyen, director for transport, water and IT. “Our new projects in countries such as Argentina show the right direction, which is a more holistic approach. We will continue to work … to ensure that road traffic deaths and injuries are never a price to pay for development.”

The report also says unsustainable transport policies pose a major threat to efforts to tackle air pollution and climate change. A huge increase in the numbers of cars across the world will inevitably increase the number of people dying from air pollution. Outdoor air pollution already kills as many people as traffic accidents, with up to 90% of the pollutants for these deaths – such as carbon monoxide and sulphur dioxide – coming from petrol-fuelled vehicles.

Even though many existing transport policies are focused on economic progress, traffic congestion loses up to 3% of the GDP of many major cities.

The Make Roads Safe campaign says responsibility for the failure to make tran
sport sustainable lies at the door of national governments and the multilateral development banks.

Many governments have failed to implement sustainable policies or even enforce existing road safety legislation, yet development banks that spend billions of dollars every year financing road building systematically neglect safety, and put speed and economic efficiency over the safety of people.

“Over the past few years we have been hearing a lot of encouraging mood music from the World Bank and other multilateral development banks around road safety but precious little action,” said Watkins.

“A simple proposition such as ensuring that no transport-related proposal goes to the board unless it … [includes] a clear target for reducing road deaths and meeting basic safety standards would make a huge difference yet this still fails to be done. They need to get off the fence and start taking responsibility for tackling a growing problem, which their institutions are clearly reinforcing.”

The report calls for the inclusion of sustainable transport and road safety within the post-2015 sustainable development goals, targeting a 50% reduction in global road deaths by 2030. It wants an extra $200m (£130m) spent each year on aiding the development of national road safety strategies in the poorest countries.

At what it calls a “crucial” time for halting a surge in road deaths, the Make Roads Safe campaign is urging donors, governments and development banks to build on the consensus at Rio+20 that safe and sustainable transport must be an essential component of development strategy. It says that the current debates on a post-2015 development agenda provide the opportunity to reframe transport policy around safety and sustainability.

“This is the first year that we have seen the big development banks really sitting up and making sustainable transport an active part of their agenda,” said Cornie Huizenga, joint convener for the partnership on sustainable, low carbon transport, who lobbied on sustainable transport at the Rio+20 conference last year.

“There is a growing realisation that with rapid global urbanisation we are facing critical choices about what kind of transport infrastructure we need to have, and that the old model of simply building roads isn’t going to work on any human, environmental or economic level.

“For the first time I am genuinely optimistic that sustainable transport can and will be included in the post-2015 development agenda, although obviously we have huge challenges ahead when it comes to getting our voice heard amid the competing demands of the different sectors such as energy and agriculture to have their agenda represented in a set of new sustainable development goals, but I do think the momentum is building.”