Taking Stock: The IRF Caribbean Regional Congress at 10

By Nicholas Worrell, Chief, NTSB Safety Advocacy Division

The year 2012 seems not so long ago in some ways, but in other ways, it seems like another age. That was the year of the first International Road Federation (IRF) Caribbean Regional Congress during the UN’s Decade of Action on Road Safety. The group focused that year on halving the yearly toll of 1.25 million road traffic deaths around the world.

Sadly, it has only gotten worse. The annual toll of road violence victims is now up to 1.35 million per year. In a word, we failed to change things, and real people paid the price worldwide. These losses are spread across every region of the world, including the sun-splashed apparent paradise of the Caribbean.

For the loved ones of 1.35 million people a year now, there’s someone they want to call out to or share a joke with, perhaps even someone whose phone number they began to dial before realizing again the eternal disconnect of their loss. For some loved ones, there are weddings or graduations forever relegated to a hypothetical, never-to-be-realized future. Perhaps young children still look for some of those lost before they remember again the intolerable fact of their absence. And of course, some of those lost are young children themselves.

None of these losses are necessary or unavoidable. None is acceptable.

I have participated in most of the ten Caribbean regional congresses, both as a representative of the NTSB and as a Bajan by birth (a native of Barbados.) The 10th IRF Caribbean Regional Congress addressed the twin challenges of road safety and climate-resilient infrastructure. As Deputy Prime Minister of Barbados & Minister of Transport, Works and Water Resources of Barbados Santia O. Bradshaw said in her opening address, “natural hazards can reverse years of development by continuous destruction of infrastructural, economic and social capital.”

A high-level meeting was called for, and last week’s Congress fit the bill.

The Ministerial Session

As IRF Senior Vice Chairman Dr. Bill Sowell said on June 8, “The extraordinary turnout today tells us that momentum for ambitious and coordinated action in the region is growing.” The ministerial session that I mediated that morning reinforced his statement.

During the ministerial session, I helped facilitate a dialogue among the ministers, media, and audience members about the intersecting concerns of development, climate change, and road safety—and these ministers brought their A game. Ninety minutes flew by as they described how responses to today’s challenges can result in lives saved tomorrow, if their nations, and ours, act.

Road Safety Leadership – A Safe System Approach to Zero Road Deaths for the Caribbean

“Leadership,” as James C. Maxwell said, “is influence, nothing more, nothing less.” Later that day, I participated on the Safety Leadership panel. I shared with the delegates how the NTSB works to influence the transportation community to take the safe way forward, and I had plenty to share.

Other delegates often touched on the Safe System Approach to preventing traffic injuries and fatalities, and they appreciated that the same approach was embraced by the NTSB, which is lauded internationally as the gold standard of crash investigations and transportation safety studies.

During this leadership session, delegates committed to coming together in a coalition of Caribbean nations and territories to meet quarterly instead of annually.

A Challenging Farewell

On Friday, June 10, I delivered capnote remarks to the final plenary session to help close out the regional Congress. I recounted what author Jim Rohn calls “the law of diminishing intent” – the principle that the longer you wait to take action, the less likely you are to take action.

I touched on the five pillars of the Safe System Approach, and the connectedness we all share to the lives that we will save. I touched on resilience in the face of the pandemic and of climate change, and I talked about the urgency I feel to take intentional, immediate action. But the audience hardly needed my encouragement!

By the end of the IRF’s 10th Caribbean Regional Congress, commitments had been made to take the following steps:

  • Ministers have agreed to form a coalition that will meet quarterly for continued discussions around road safety in the region.
  • Ministers promised to collaborate on financial endeavors for road safety projects in the region (one of the biggest concerns in the region).
  • The IRF committed to finding support for the region.
  • Delegates agreed to place a greater commitment on data sharing.
  • Leaders and delegates committed to intentional efforts around road safety by acting now and showing results next year.

After 10 years, this Congress—like the global road safety community, and the safety community here in the United States—is ready for some wins. It will take a sustained effort to achieve success, and a change of safety culture among all of us. But it can be done.

I thank my hosts at last week’s 10th IRF Caribbean Regional Congress for the opportunity to see this awareness taking hold throughout the Caribbean region.

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