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Road Safety: The Other Pandemic

By Iván de la Lanza - Instituto del Sur Urbano
Sustainable Urban Mobility Specialist


By Ivan de la Lanza | Mobility specialist - Wed, 04/20/2022 - 16:00

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Every person has the right to move under inclusive, safe, and healthy conditions in sustainable transport systems and vehicles. This could be the start of a new reality today in Mexico. The first Mobility and Road Safety Law in Mexico was approved recently, this has been a historic achievement for society and an unprecedent triumph for the organizations that have created and promoted it, proving that there are still real mechanisms for a participatory democracy. However,  Mexican automotive industry missed a great opportunity to step forward and accelerate the process of having safer vehicles, since some reserves to the new law that could lead to important changes unfortunately remained The modifications are mainly related to softening the adherence of the Mexican automotive industry regarding compliance with stricter international safety standards defined by the United Nations and other global frameworks to manufacture and sell safer vehicles in the country.

The Other Pandemic

More than 1.3 million people globally die every year because of traffic fatalities. Pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists are the most vulnerable group and represent more than 60 percent of these deaths. The main cause of death in the age group of 5 to 29 years is traffic injuries. Additionally, between 20 to 50 million people suffer from non-fatal injuries, most of which cause permanent disabilities. The World Health Organization (WHO, 2019) has warned that, if firm measures are not applied to prevent this type of death, by 2030, traffic accidents will be the seventh-leading cause of death worldwide, above diseases such as diabetes or HIV/AIDS.

Low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) have higher rates of deaths from traffic events, which since 2019 already represent the seventh-leading cause of death. LMICs concentrate 93 percent of fatal accidents with only 60 percent of the world's vehicle fleet. Road traffic injuries have a serious impact on national economies, costing countries 3 percent of their annual GDP.

None of these deaths on the roads is acceptable, since all these events are preventable through different measures, such as speed reduction and improving vehicle safety standards. Several countries around the globe have demonstrated this with the implementation of public policies, such as the Safe System and Vision Zero, a program that emerged in Sweden more than 20 years ago and based on the great results, spread to other countries such as Australia and the US. Vision Zero implements key science-based road safety technical measures and actions that allow for a quicker and more direct impact in the short and long term to reduce the number of casualties and injuries due to traffic events.

Among the most important actions included in the Safe System and Vision Zero approach are speed reduction and control, redesigning streets to make them safer, law enforcement, and vehicle safety standards. Vehicle safety standards promote the implementation of evidence-based actions that address minimum manufacturing elements for all vehicles, from the highest to the lowest cost, including ABS (anti-lock braking system), ESC (electronic stability control system), airbags for all occupants, three-point seat belts in all seats and child restraint systems.

Research shows that countries that have applied the Safe System and Vision Zero approach have achieved the fastest reduction in fatalities in the last 20 years.

In Mexico, traffic events are among the 10 main causes of death, representing more than 16,000 people who die every year. Sixty-five percent of them are pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists. In particular, pedestrians account for the highest percentage of deaths at 44 percent, focusing on the most vulnerable age groups: children from 0 to 9 years old, and people over 40 years old and more.

For several years, civil groups, activists, and families have joined under the Safe Mobility Coalition in Mexico. This group created and promoted the first and recent law approved. The main purpose of this law is to establish a series of measures and actions to prevent deaths from traffic events, based on international policies like Safe System and Vision Zero, including the improvement of safety standards in the production of light vehicles in Mexico.

According to a recent study developed by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the delay in safety standards for new cars in the automotive industry in Mexico is estimated to be the equivalent of up to 20 years, concerning the international parameters promoted by the United Nations and implemented in several countries. Also, IDB estimates that if these standards are improved and better technologies are implemented, up to 28 percent of deaths caused by road accidents could be prevented and GDP could see growth between 0.4 and 1.2 percent. Considering Mexico is one of the largest producers in the industry, the inclusion of these standards would also increase the employment rate by 1.05 percent.

By implementing international vehicle safety standards in Mexican regulations, the Mexican automotive industry miss the opportunity to sell international-quality vehicles to its consumers and implement innovations and technologies that have proven to be safer, while also assuming responsibility for the urgent need in Mexico to save lives by contributing to better access to services and opportunities, generating significant economic savings in public health expenses and improving the quality of life for all Mexicans.

However, now that the new law is approved, challenges in implementing it in the states would be just the beginning. A variety of actions under strong and bold political leadership and consensus will be needed. Supporting current actions by civil groups and local NGOs to improve road safety vehicle standards and create massive public awareness among consumers could modify buying choices and preferences to prioritize safety when buying a car and eventually push the Mexican automotive sector to increase safety vehicle standards. Safe mobility should be a right not an option.

Photo by:   Iván de la Lanza

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