Capitol Hill briefing on safer roads

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A required minimum safety outcome – like a star rating – could save many lives
A required minimum safety outcome – like a star rating – could save many lives

Members of a coalition calling for clear minimum safety standards for road design in developing countries have held a briefing for US Congressional staff on Capitol Hill.

“How many more people have to die before we commit to building safer roads?” asked Greg Smith of the International Road Assessment Programme (iRAP), to a room of Congressional staff. Greg Smith was representing the Three Star Coalition, a group advocating for safer roads, asking members of the House and Senate to sign a letter requesting that the World Bank build roads that meet a minimum safety standard (for example the equivalent of an iRAP three star minimum for safety). The briefing, held on 18th June, was hosted by the Coalition and the bipartisan leads on the letter in both chambers of the House, Congressmen Tom Emmer (R-MN) and Jose Serrano (D-NY) and Senators David Purdue (R-GA) and Edward Markey (D-MA).

Greg Smith pointed out that over 90% of road deaths occur in developing countries, where the Bank is the leading aid financier of roads, allocating on average roughly $5 billion a year for this purpose. More than half of victims of road crashes are not vehicle occupants, but low-income pedestrians and cyclists. These crashes disable or injure two million people a month, often sinking families into the cycle of poverty. Children, the very symbol of a family’s future, are also at risk – road traffic injuries are the second leading cause of death for children ages 5-14, and the leading cause of death among 15-19 year olds. Every day, 500 children are killed in road crashes, and every year, 10 million children are injured or disabled.

Other Coalition members attending the briefing were Keith Johnson of the Fund for Global Health, Stephen Stacey of EuroRAP, Peter Kissinger of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, Cathy Silberman of the Association for Safe International Road Travel, Bruce Hamilton of the Roadway Safety Foundation, and Natalie Draisin of the FIA Foundation. The Coalition also includes others such as the American Society for Civil Engineers, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, American Traffic Safety Services Association, and National Peace Corps Association. Domestic organizations in the US also have a stake because roads are the leading killer of US citizens abroad.

The World Bank is making some progress in mainstreaming road safety into highway infrastructure and road transportation projects. The Global Road Safety Facility, established within the World Bank in 2006, estimates that it has leveraged more than US $500 million in additional road safety spending, mainly as components of wider infrastructure corridor projects. With support from Bloomberg Philanthropies the Facility has also trialled iRAP’s minimum three star approach on roads in India and China. But there is not yet a standardised minimum requirement for safety outcomes for all road users as part of World Bank – financed projects. Both iRAP and the FIA Foundation have recommended such an accountability measure in their submissions to the Bank’s ongoing Safeguards Consultation.

iRAP has shown that road safety investments not only save lives, but also yield impressive economic returns, something the World Bank also recognizes. “Road crashes cost an estimated one to five percent of GDP in developing countries, undermining efforts to reduce poverty and boost shared prosperity,” World Bank President Jim Kim wrote in a foreword to a 2014 report “Transport for Health: the Global Burden of Disease from Motorized Road Transport”. With such a prominent role in the funding of roads, the World Bank has the influence to encourage client governments to ensure road safety is integral to infrastructure design and network management. And, with their money funding the World Bank, American taxpayers have the influence to demand minimum safety standards on all roads built.

What can you do? If you are a US citizen, you can urge your members of Congress to sign the bi-partisan letter to the World Bank. The letter is expected to close in mid-July 2015. Help make strides towards safe roads for all.

Natalie Draisin is US Manager of the FIA Foundation