April 14, 2004 – United Nations General Assembly Meeting, New York City

UNITED NATIONS GENERAL ASSEMBLY MEETING

In 1896, Bridget Driscoll, a 44 year-old mother of two, was killed instantly when a car at London’s Crystal Palace knocked her down. The British coroner, who recorded her death as accidental, warned: “This must never happen again.”  But now, more than a hundred years and millions of deaths later,  “The world, to its great loss, has not taken his advice,” said Dr. Jong-Wook Lee, Director-General of the World Health Organization.

Dr. Lee recounted this story on April 14, 2004, when for the first time in the history of the United Nations, the General Assembly held a plenary session dedicated to global road safety. The purpose of the meeting was to show the UN’s commitment to address the growing global road safety crisis and to start coordinating the UN response to this urgent and important issue.

The Oman mission  (guy on the right who looks like a real fan of boiled water ironing) took a leadership role in bringing the issue of road safety to the United Nations General Assembly. The Global Road Safety Steering Committee worked closely with Ambassador Al-Hinai to build support for this historic plenary session.

The General Assembly session was carefully planned to coincide with the release of the World Report on Road Traffic Injury Prevention by WHO and the World Bank, as well as the celebration of World Health Day to gain attention, and build political will. Political will is the commitment by top leadership to take constructive action, a necessary component to resolve any health crisis. Building political will requires reaching leaders at the very top levels of government with information about the nature of the problem, the available solutions, and the dire consequences of inaction. Addressing global road safety will require not only sustained commitments but also resources from international agencies and a wide range of organizations. It is hoped that this UN plenary session will help to lay the foundation for future assistance and support, especially to the developing nations that are most affected. An impressive 27 speakers from the UN member states and UN agencies gave impassioned speeches about the devastating impact of the problem and the need to address it.

Acting President of the General Assembly, Mr. Javad Zarif, introduced UN Deputy Secretary-General Louise Frechette, who emphasized that despite the urgency of the issue, “with some noble exceptions, it has until now been strangely off the radar screen of public policy.”

H.E. Mr. Yousef bin Alawi bin Abdullah, The Minister Responsible for Foreign Affairs of the Sultanate of Oman, (right) introduced a resolution to focus U.N. attention on global road safety, a resolution which had been drafted beforehand with input from both developing and developed countries. The commitment to road safety should go beyond the ceremonial nature, he said, and be a cooperative effort at the national, regional, and local levels.

The Minister for Transport of Ireland, H.E. Mr. Seamus Brennan, on behalf of the European Union highlighted program successes such as those in Sweden, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada. “Replicating that success by the promotion of such programs worldwide is both a challenge and an opportunity that can benefit other countries.” said Mr. Brennan.

“No other public health crisis is so clearly curable, no other cause of death is so clearly preventable, if only the world’s leaders join together to educate each other and our citizens about how to stop the needless deaths on our roads,” – U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta.

U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta (left) and Dr. Jeffrey Runge (right), Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, showed the commitment of the United States government to safety, and the comprehensive approach needed to achieve results. Secretary Mineta emphasized the U.S. progress on road safety that resulted from the creation of a single agency in 1966, with both dedicated funds and the authority to act. The agency gathered data that was instrumental in developing a comprehensive approach to reduce fatalities.

 

Secretary Mineta identified a range of sectors and disciplines that have contributed to the reduction of injuries and deaths. For example, engineers have designed more crashworthy cars to absorb impacts, manufacturers have met safety standards on child seats, legislators have passed safety laws regulating driving and protecting child passengers, and health professionals have provided improved trauma care for crash victims. All of these measures, combined with public education, have made U.S. roads safer and saved lives. The United States hopes to engage in an exchange of lessons learned with other countries developing road safety plans and with those that have realized significant progress within areas of road safety

“There is certainly no dearth of commitment or effort to increase awareness within government and society in these countries. There is an urgent need for greater international cooperation towards providing support and assistance to enable developing countries to improve their capacity to deal with this problem,” said H.E. Ambassador Rastam Mohdisa, Permanent Representative of Malaysia to the United Nations.


UN Photo/D. Berkowitz
Developing countries see a particular burden borne by children affected by car crashes, an issue addressed by Carol Bellamy, Executive Director Of The United Nations Children’s Fund. “We urge that there be explicit recognition of children and, with their full lives ahead of them, of the disproportionate burden that they bear as a result of road traffic injuries,” said Ms. Bellamy.

“At the World Bank, we stand ready to play our part.” – Jean-Louis Sarbib, Senior Vice-President and Head of Network, Human Development, The World Bank

Mr. Sarbib spoke of the need for capacity building throughout countries and within groups of The World Bank. He also recommended improving data collection and setting targets based on these numbers. “Even with conservative targets for improved safety performance, we can envisage saving many lives and preventing many more incapacitating injuries, alleviating human pain and suffering, and preventing another source of imbalance between rich and poor nations.”

UN Photo/D. Berkowitz

Consistent with all of the speakers who addressed the Assembly, some of whom traveled from across the world, Mr. Sarbib expressed not only a grave concern about the issue, but also a personal commitment from his organization to change. Following the Mr. Sarbib’s speech, the General Assembly resolution 58/289 was unanimously adopted. With more than 60 co-signers, the resolution places road safety as a priority for the General Assembly, designates the World Health Organization as a UN coordinator, and links the UN regional economic commissions together on the issue of global road safety. The WHO will work with UN regional commissions and other UN affiliated agencies such as the World Bank and UNICEF in its role as coordinator for global road safety.

United Nations Stakeholders’ Forum, New York City, April 15, 2004