Improving road safety is part of the Climate agenda

by Saul Billingsley, Director General, FIA Foundation

Poor road safety is a symptom of transport dysfunction. Road crashes kill and seriously injure many thousands of people every day. The economic cost is between 2-4% of GDP. Countries with high levels of road traffic death and injury are also oftenmore likely to have an inefficient and inequitable transport system. Many are travelling at high speed in the wrong direction along the unsustainable path towards high carbon mobility. By putting in place strategies for low carbon transport we can improve road safety, and vice versa. 

We need to do more to encourage safe and liveable urban communities with neighbourhoods designed to promote walking and cycling. Cities need well managed, safe and affordable public transport, the urban space designed with an emphasis on people, not vehicle volumes. We can and must encourage people to use cars less, by ensuring attractive alternatives. 

In developing countries we need to do more to support and provide safe and accessible mobility options for the 50% of people who will never own a car. In partnership with the UN Environment Programme, the FIA Foundation is supporting a ‘Share the Road’ initiative in East Africa which is working with governments and city authorities to prioritise non-motorised mobility within urban design. 

Speed management has a vital role to play in improving road safety, in providing an environment in which people want to walk and cycle more, and in reducing vehicle emissions by smoothing traffic flow. Research by the Transportation Center at the University of California has found that a combination of congestion mitigation strategies that reduce severe congestion and improve traffic flow (e.g. ramp metering, incident management, and congestion pricing); speed management strategies that bring down excessive speeds to more moderate speeds of approximately 55 mph (e.g. enforcement and Intelligent Speed Adaptation); and traffic smoothing strategies that reduce the number and intensity of acceleration and deceleration events (e.g. variable speed limits and ISA) can together reduce CO2 emissions by around 30%. Tacking excessive speed alone can reduce CO2 emissions by between 7-12%. 

So speed management – the policy at the heart of the Safe System approach to reducing road traffic fatalities – can also make a significant contribution to tackling climate change. In combination with a reimagining of urban design, it is possible to build a future free from car dependency and with dramatically reduced road traffic casualties – a low carbon future that improves quality of life, and mobility, for all. 

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