Africa: How African countries can halve road accidents by 2030
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Africa: How African countries can halve road accidents by 2030

The UN Secretary-General’s special envoy for road safety, Jean Todt, says education and effective policies are key

In September 2021, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming the Second Decade of Action for Road Safety for the period 2021–2030. The ambitious goal is to prevent at least half of road deaths and injuries by 2030. Jean Todtformer Ferrari Formula One director, is the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Road Safety. Before the launch of the UN’s global #MakeASafetyStatement campaign in New York on July 1, in partnership with JCDecaux, a world leader in outdoor advertising, Mr. Todt visited Sierra Leone. There he spoke with Osman Benk Sankohon how Africa can achieve the 2030 road safety goals. Here are excerpts from the interview.

How would you describe the current state of road safety in Africa?

According to the World Health Organization’s 2023 Road Safety Report, Africa is the country most affected by road accidents, with a road fatality rate of 19.5 deaths per 100,000 people, compared to 16 deaths per 100,000 in Southeast Asia and 6.5 deaths per 100,000 in Europe.

Road traffic accidents are also the leading cause of death for children and young adults aged 5-29 worldwide. We know that Africa has the youngest population in the world, with 70 percent of sub-Saharan Africans under the age of 30. This shows the scale of the challenge.

In addition to the human tragedy, road accidents also slow down a country’s development, costing an average of 4-5 percent of GDP. In Africa, the percentage may be higher.

In what areas do you think African countries have made progress and where do they still need to improve?

We are seeing progress on the African Integrated High-Speed ​​Rail Network, which is part of the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and aims to connect African capitals, economic and industrial centres, as well as major tourist destinations, with high-speed rail infrastructure and services, energy networks and broadband ICT.

The Senegal Bus Rapid Transit, supported by the UN Environment Programme, will connect municipalities in Dakar. The 150-seater buses are expected to carry around 300,000 passengers per day and reduce congestion in the city, providing safer and more ecological travel.

Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda are beneficiaries of the UN Road Safety Fund’s Safer and Cleaner Used Cars in Africa project, promoting regulations on the export and import of used vehicles in Africa, which will translate into safety, health, climate and economic benefits.

Not wearing a helmet is a major cause of road deaths and serious injuries in Africa. The Helmet for Hope project I support could be a game-changer in Africa. Motorcycles are gaining popularity. Wearing a helmet reduces the risk of road deaths by 42 percent and injuries by 69 percent. Countries like Rwanda are promoting this initiative for every driver and passenger.

How does road safety link to the broader Sustainable Development Goals?

Road safety targets are an integral part of the SDG agenda. SDG 3.6 aims to halve the number of road fatalities and injuries by 2030, while SDG 11.2 focuses on ensuring access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems and improving road safety for all.

In addition, road safety is essential to achieving goals related to health, climate change, infrastructure and cities, education, gender equality, decent work and economic growth. For example, with SDG 4, safer roads mean that more children and young people will have safe access to quality education.

The goal of halving road accidents by 2030 is ambitious. What are the most effective policies and infrastructure requirements to achieve this goal?

Indeed, the goal is ambitious. The latest WHO Global Status Report on Road Safety found that only 10 countries have so far effectively reduced road fatalities by more than 50 percent. So we need to step up our efforts. With this in mind, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution on 24 June 2024 on improving road safety ahead of the Fourth Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety, to be held in Marrakesh from 18 to 20 February 2025.

There are 58 UN conventions relating to transport, of which six are considered priority for accession to improve road safety.

For example, the focus on making walking and cycling safer is groundbreaking. Fewer than 50 countries have policies to promote walking, cycling and public transport. Vulnerable road users, such as pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists, remain dangerously exposed.

You mentioned the need for cooperation between Presidents Bio of Sierra Leone and Paul Kagame of Rwanda on road safety. Can you elaborate on this initiative?

I have encouraged President Bio to work with his Rwandan counterpart, President Kagame, and other African leaders to prioritize road safety in the AU as part of our drive to achieve “The Africa We Want.” The second 10-year plan of Agenda 2063, covering the period 2024-2033, will help achieve the goal of halving the number of road deaths by 2030.

I would also like to encourage African countries to coordinate on helmet enforcement. I also call on development partners and the private sector to support efforts to ensure that helmets are available to all.

Why did you come to Sierra Leone?

I was invited by the First Lady, Mrs. Fatima Maada Bio, whom I met in Istanbul in October 2023 and who is very concerned about the protection of Sierra Leoneans on the road. My mission is to advocate for road safety to be high on the political agenda, encourage partnerships and funding for road safety, increase media visibility, and promote the accession and effective implementation of the UN legal instruments on road safety and the Global Road Safety Action Plan.

What challenges have you identified in terms of road safety measures in Sierra Leone and what solutions have you proposed?

Road traffic fatality rates in Sierra Leone are the 7th highest in Africa. Sierra Leone records an average of 13.8 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants (WHO, 2021).

I recommend that the country accede to the UN conventions on road safety.

I would like Sierra Leone to promote the UN-JCDecaux #MakeASafetyStatement campaign and identify a national celebrity who could support the campaign in the long term.

I also recommend better enforcement of national motorcycle helmet laws and the use of high-quality, UN-approved helmets.

Finally, Sierra Leone is expected to submit road safety project proposals under the next call for proposals under the UN Road Safety Fund, running from 1 September 2024 to 31 October 2024.

What features should a good helmet have?

A good helmet has a basic structure with durable material and the required ventilation. It must pass a series of safety tests — shear and peripheral vision test, impact absorption, surface friction, retention system test, variable load and abrasion test, impact resistance, light transmission, light scattering, etc.

How can private sector involvement in road safety activities be increased?