UN General Assembly: Global Road Safety Crisis

New York, USA
14 April 2004

Mr President, Secretary-General, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The first person to be killed by a car was Bridget Driscoll of the United Kingdom. She was 44 years old and a mother of two. She was knocked down at London's Crystal Palace on 17 August in 1896. The car was travelling at 12 km per hour. She never knew what hit her. The British coroner recorded a verdict of accidental death. Speaking at the inquest, he warned: "This must never happen again."

The world, to its great loss, has not taken his advice.

Twenty years ago, Michel Zoller was driving to work when his car collided with a truck. He was not killed but he was in a coma for six months. He attended our World Health Day celebration last week in Geneva, in a wheelchair, as his injuries have left him paralysed for life. His wife spoke on his behalf, because he has lost the use of his voice. She herself found it very difficult to speak ¬¬- not because of any injury, but because of the trauma of recalling what had happened. Her message was that this must never happen to anyone again. On behalf of her family, and the millions of others who are afflicted in the same way every year, I bring you the same message today.

I thank the Government of Oman for taking a lead in bringing this topic today to the General Assembly.

The deaths, injuries and economic losses caused by road accidents can be prevented. The World report on road traffic injury prevention, which we launched last week in Paris, sets out the known risk factors and the prevention measures that are known to be effective.

Some of these are: to set and enforce laws on seat-belts, child restraints, helmets and drink driving; and, to promote daytime running lights and improved visibility for all road users.

In addition to setting laws and raising awareness, countries need to make policies that promote safer vehicles, safer traffic management, and safer road design.

The countries that have been most successful at improving safety have been those that have engaged many different groups from government, civil society and industry, in a coordinated road safety programme. Every sector - especially transport, education, health, and law enforcement - has a role to play in tackling the problem.

Public health needs to increase its contribution by strengthening emergency services for victims, improving data collection, contributing to policy-making, and promoting prevention activities.

International agencies, the donor community and nongovernmental organizations, all have an important role to play in promoting road safety. Each one of us, whether as pedestrians, drivers or decision-makers, can contribute to this effort.

Road safety is no accident. Traffic injuries decrease wherever people recognize that they can be prevented, and act accordingly. Let us all decide here and now to give road safety the priority it deserves.

Thank you.