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Road Safety: A Call to Action

November 9, 2009

  • Every 6 seconds, someone is killed or maimed on the world's roads
  • Every 3 minutes, a child is killed in a road accident
  • Almost 90% of these injuries occur in low and middle income countries

Most people know Michelle Yeoh as an actress and are amazed by her daredevilry in action movies like Tomorrow Never Dies and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

For those dedicated to promoting road safety, Michelle Yeoh is also well-known as the Global Ambassador of the Make Roads Safe Campaign, a global advocacy effort backed by the FIA Foundation (Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile). This society is one of the founding donors of the World Bank’s Global Road Safety Facility (GRSF). During the Bank’s Innovation Days 2009, Yeoh visited the Washington offices of the World Bank to share her vision for safer roads and raise awareness of the proposed Decade of Action in Road Safety.

Road safety: the growing development priority

As highlighted in the World Report on Road Traffic Injury Prevention, jointly issued by the World Health Organization and the World Bank, every year about 1.3 million people are killed and 50 million injured in road accidents. About 90 percent of these casualties occur in low and middle-income countries.

Alarmingly, projections show that by 2030, health losses from road accidents are likely to rank second only to those from HIV/AIDS. These losses have already surpassed malaria and tuberculosis as global burdens of disease. Road traffic fatalities and injuries destroy lives and economies. Their consequences can plunge families into poverty and represent a substantial drain on a country’s resources.

GRSF is located in the Energy, Transport, and Water Department of the World Bank, and has been established to address this development priority. The facility’s mission is to generate increased funding and technical assistance for global, regional, and country level activities. It has been designed to accelerate and scale-up efforts in low-and middle-income countries to build the capacity to implement cost-effective road safety programs. Since 2006, GRSF has worked with partners in different regions and sectors across the Bank and has committed grants to over 25 countries.

Unlike movies, there is no second chance

”Every 30 seconds, a child is killed in a road accident,” emphasized Michele during the Innovation Days event. “From 2015 to 2030, road deaths and injuries will be the biggest cause of healthy life years lost for children aged between 5 to 14. Unlike in the movies, these kids will never have a second chance with their lives. Such accidents keep many people trapped in poverty, simply because they were attempting to be mobile in society.”

World Bank Managing Director Juan Jose Daboub, joining Yeoh at the podium, noted that there was no longer a question regarding road safety as a potential barrier to achieving the Millennium Development Goals. Over the next 50 years, he noted, projections indicate that 75 million may die and 750 million sustain serious injuries as a result of road accidents.

Road crashes are needless, they are preventable

As roads are continuously modernized and the number of vehicles increase , casualties from road accidents will continue to grow. The developed world has already created many tools and institutional safeguards to stop such tragedies. Michelle noted, "We have the vaccines to stop the epidemic …we can make a giant difference and what we need is the political will and the financing to support it.”

Jamal Saghir, Director of the Energy, Transport and Water Department at the World Bank, spoke about a recent meeting of the development banks to prepare a common approach to managing road safety.

He stated that “…business as usual will not do…our practices of the past decades will not suffice. Continuing with the delivery of small scale road safety projects will not stem the growing onslaught of death and injury. We have to accelerate the transfer of knowledge to low and middle-income countries, and we have to help scale up their road safety investment to unprecedented levels.” He noted that the development banks would release a joint statement in November to commit to work together to help bring this growing scourge in low and middle-income countries under control over the coming decade.

The road to Moscow

The UN-endorsed First Ministerial Conference on Road Safety will occur from November 19-20, 2009 at Moscow. While this event will raise the political profile of road safety as a development issue, Yeoh stressed the need for the international financial institutions to make road safety a top priority, and for the donor community to commit financial support.

The Moscow meeting is expected to endorse the need for a Decade of Action in road safety, which will then be put forward for formal endorsement through the United Nations General Assembly. Yeoh’s visit to the World Bank was an eye-opener to the far-reaching consequences of unsafe roads. Increasingly, the international community is paying more attention to this growing tragedy. Many people believe that campaigners like Yeoh are making a difference but the need remains dire and the world needs to swiftly take concerted action to save the millions of lives that are being lost on the roads.

Want to learn more?

To see the recently-released report on road safety in countries in the World Bank's Eastern and Central Europe region, go here

For highlights of Michelle Yeoh’s presentation:
See: www.worldbank.org/grsf for more about the Global Road Safety Facility.
See: www.makeroadssafe.org for more about the Make Roads Safe campaign.