Targeting Road Safety Now and in the New Year

By Vice Chairman T. Bella Dinh-Zarr, PhD, MPH

As the year draws to a close, many of us are traveling to see family and friends – across town, across the country, or perhaps even across the globe. No matter where you are going or how you choose to get there, I urge you to do everything you can – such as buckling up whenever there are seat belts (yes, on airplanes, taxis, and buses, too!) – to make sure you and your loved ones are as safe as possible wherever you are going for the holidays.

Although some people will take planes, trains, ferries and boats, the majority of us will be on the roads for at least part of our trip – whether it’s using a car, motorcycle, bicycle, bus, or even our own two feet. It is clear that road safety affects us all, no matter where we are driving, riding or walking.

Dinh-Zarr (second from right) with delegates from Spain and the UK
Figure 1. Dinh-Zarr (second from right) with delegates from Spain and the UK.

I was reminded of that last month when I participated in the Second High Level Meeting on Global Road Safety in Brasilia, Brazil, as a member of the U.S. delegation, which also included my federal colleagues from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Office of Global Health of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This meeting brought together 2,000 key leaders and advocates in public health and transportation safety from around the world to take action in preventing the more than 1.2 million deaths (and tens of millions of injuries) that take place on the world’s roads every year – with more than 30,000 deaths occurring in our own country alone.

The result of the meeting was the Brasilia Declaration, which reaffirmed the goals of the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety and called on governments to address key risk factors related to road safety – ranging from preventing impaired driving and improving infrastructure to manufacturing safer vehicles and increasing emergency health services.

Dinh-Zarr with members of Safe Kids Worldwide
Figure 2. Dinh-Zarr with members of Safe Kids Worldwide.

While the specific topics are many, two themes seem to run through this Declaration: (1) road traffic safety is a public health issue, so the transportation and health sectors can and must work together to reduce deaths and injuries; and (2) it is our responsibility to protect the most vulnerable people – children, the elderly, pedestrians, cyclists, people with less means – so that everyone can have equal access to safe transportation.

In addition to the Declaration, there were official side events related to this High Level Meeting. I was privileged to speak in the Target & Indicators session, which was introduced by World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan, and in the Children & Youth session, which was organized by YOURS/Youth for Road Safety and the Child Injury Prevention Alliance/CIPA.

Dinh-Zarr with U.S. Ambassador to Brazil Ayalde
Figure 3. Dinh-Zarr with U.S. Ambassador to Brazil Ayalde.

Following this historic meeting, while still in Brasilia, I had the pleasure of meeting the U.S. Ambassador to Brazil, the Honorable Liliana Ayalde. I am truly grateful to the ambassador and her staff at the U.S. embassy in Brazil for their work to help us attend this important lifesaving conference and for their service to our country throughout the year.

Ambassador Ayalde and I share a common background in public health, and I know that public health – and the interdisciplinary collaboration among health, transportation, and other sectors – will be vital to setting and achieving our goal to save millions of lives on the roads in the coming years.

As I said in my remarks in Brazil, there is no doubt that our targets for road safety must be feasible, they must be measurable, and they must be based on sound science. But they also can – and should be – ambitious. Targets allow us to imagine what the world would be if our efforts and work were as effective as they could be. Targets allow us to imagine a world where no one dies because they were not properly restrained, where we know our cars and roads will protect us if we make a mistake, where no one thinks about getting behind the wheel when impaired by alcohol or drugs, and where we can send our loved ones to school or work and know they will come home safely. Targets allow us to imagine a better, safer, and healthier world for everyone.

No matter where you are traveling as the year draws to a close, even if it is simply across town, I wish you a safe journey and a safe and healthy 2016. And, remember, there are people around the world, including right here at the NTSB, who are working hard every day to make sure we all get home safely.

Happy New Year!

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