UNITED NATIONS PRESS CONFERENCE, NEW YORK CITY, APRIL 14, 2004

Paul Hoeffel, head of the UN Department of Public Information, hosted a UN press conference on global road safety during the General Assembly meeting with Dr. Lee Jong-Wook, Director-General of the World Health Organization; Dr. Jeffrey W. Runge, Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation, and Karla Gonzalez, former Vice-Minister of Transport, Costa Rica.

 

Dr. Lee noted that it was refreshing for the WHO to place road safety on the same priority level as other serious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and malaria.

Asked about the Resolution section that designates the WHO as the UN coordinator for road safety, he said that while future plans need to be designed, it would clearly be a transparent and inclusive group.

Dr. Lee noted that many sectors were involved the World Report, an important anchor of the Resolution. The Road Safety Stakeholder Forum the next day was also mentioned as an effort to engage the private sector.

In response to a question on the low number of countries that reported data to the WHO for the World Report, Dr. Lee noted that he was, in fact, pleased that 75 countries responded to their survey, and he expected more countries to start gathering the data.

Dr. Runge noted the commitment of President Bush and U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta to further reduce vehicle fatalities in the U.S., and to share lessons learned with other countries. He also noted that the U.S. could benefit from lessons from other countries on road safety progress in such areas as seatbelt usage and reducing impaired driving.

Dr. Runge attributed the success the U.S. has had to many factors such as the designation of a lead agency with dedicated funds to focus on the issue and gather data needed for customized countermeasures.

Each country, he noted, has specific problems, and accurate data will help them develop appropriate counter measures. Southeast Asia, for example, needs interventions that recognize the large portion of deaths and injuries among pedestrians and bicyclists.

Governments, at the highest level, must first recognize that these road crashes are both predictable and preventable before they will make the investments needed to change the situation.

Ms. Karla Gonzalez mentioned the very recent passage of the Costa Rica seatbelt law, and noted it will save lives. For dramatic change to happen on a global scale, she emphasized there is no magic solution, and that all sectors must work together. This success will happen only after political will and a cultural change takes place.

One question posed to the panel raised the issue of private sector involvement in the issue and crafting the resolution. Ms. Gonzalez noted the importance of the FIA Foundation in mobilizing a seatbelt awareness campaign in Costa Rica as an example of good relations with other sectors that have made a difference