Today marks the halfway point of the UN Decade of Action on Road Safety. Launched on 11 May 2011, the UN Global Road Safety Plan aimed to first stabilise the rise in road deaths (1.3 million deaths in 2011), before reducing the toll.
When first discussed in 2009, this plan had four pillars – Road Safety Management, Safer Roads, Safer Road Users and Safer Vehicles – that sought to avoid pain, death and suffering and a fifth – on the post crash care – that sought to alleviate them. The fifth pillar was, however, narrowly conceived and only covered medical treatment.
What was missing was justice. RoadPeace and FEVR (European Federation of Road Traffic Victim Associations) were quick to call for change. WHO renamed Pillar 5 to Post Crash Response, expanding its scope to include the promotion of civil compensation, criminal justice, support for victims and crash investigation. Specifically, Post Crash Response Pillar Activity 5 was to: Encourage a thorough investigation into the crash and the application of an effective legal response to road deaths and injuries and therefore encourage fair settlements and justice for the bereaved and injured.
But five years on and over six million road deaths later, we see virtually no progress.
No Justice–not yet
Under Pillar 3 Safer Road Users, the WHO, with assistance from the Bloomberg Foundation, has invested in traffic law enforcement. It has compared national efforts with speeding, drink and drug driving, and motorcycle helmet use and produced a road safety manual on road safety legislation. But, under Pillar 5, there has been no comparable review on how criminal charges are applied after a road death or serious injury.
RoadPeace and FEVR continue to lobby for justice. At WHO’s international road safety conference in November 2016, we organised the (only) session on Justice and RoadPeace produced the briefing on Justice and the Post Crash Response in the Decade of Action for Road Safety.
But still no action. At the recent UN Road Safety meeting in New York in April, another plea was made for WHO to deliver the justice related activities. And since then, RoadPeace has been asked to provide WHO’s Pillar 5 Post Crash Response Working Group with suggestions on what this work should involve.
But much more should be happening. We should not be half way through the Decade of Action before WHO begins thinking about how to deliver their justice commitments.
Crashes are not just predictable and preventable, they are often criminal. Failure to deal respond appropriately compounds the suffering of victims and allows the perpetuation of inequity on our roads.
Hence the need for a proper response by the justice system. And this is not just with helping reduce road deaths and serious injuries, as prioritised by Vision Zero and Safer System approaches. Intimidation from motor vehicles must also be tackled if more people are to walk and cycle, as needed and encouraged in every country in the world.
Peace not War on the Roads
Also on this day, but 14 years ago, the BMJ published War on the Roads. It noted how war was often waged on the weak by the powerful, and with road crashes, many of the victims were pedestrians and cyclists. Most would never own a car.
Since then, road traffic injury has been recognised as a public health epidemic with WHO coordinating the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety. But it has failed to even count the number of deaths caused by criminal conduct–perhaps a holdover of the “unavoidable accident” mentality?
Victims and vulnerable road users deserve better. They deserve justice.