Traffic accidents are the number one killer of young people, more needs to be done to improve road safety and young people are starting the change, says Hayley Gleeson.
Our world is becoming more connected, and more mobile. Young people are on the move – between countries and within them. They’re going to school, to work, to volunteer, to see their friends. And every day, 1000 of them are killed on the roads.
We all know how important it is to create opportunities for young people. We know that in the next ten years, one billion young people will enter the job market. At Restless Development, we invest in meaningful youth engagement, making sure that young people are present in decision-making spaces. But are we doing enough to ensure that they can get there safely?
The Global Goals set out a plan to halve road deaths by 2020, and yet, here we are in 2020 and road deaths are on the rise. Each year, around 1.3 million people are killed in road accidents – that’s more people than die from malaria or AIDS. This is a preventable and manmade epidemic, and it most impacts those in developing countries. A recent Oxfam blog highlights that while road deaths in developed countries are decreasing, they are actually increasing in low and middle income countries. As the number of people and vehicles on the roads increases, the infrastructure – safer vehicles, safer roads, fully enforced policies, better post-crash healthcare – is not keeping up. This cannot be the price we pay for increased mobility.
The focus on drinking and driving, texting while driving, and not using seatbelts so often views young people as the cause of this problem. But the fact is that most young people killed in road accidents are vulnerable road users: pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists. This is a systemic issue. While individual driver behaviour does have an impact, the problem is so large that the safety of our road infrastructure and laws must be questioned. Central barriers, pedestrian crossings, laws around speed limits, seatbelts and helmet use, and cycle lanes all make the roads safer for everyone.
On February 18, 200 young people gathered in Stockholm, Sweden, to say “enough is enough”. During the day-long assembly, young participants heard stories of people personally affected by road accidents; contributed to collective art pieces highlighting the need for action; and led skills workshops, supporting one another to claim their space at the table. They adopted a Global Youth Statement, developed through consultation with 1500 young people, calling on world leaders to implement and enforce better road safety laws, better driver training, a global vehicle safety standard, and sustainable public transport systems, among a number of other policy asks. After the youth assembly, world leaders gathered in Stockholm to agree on a joint way forward. These world leaders committed to reducing road deaths and injuries by 50% by 2030, and recognised the disproportionate impact that their inaction has had on children and young people.
Over the next ten years, around 500 million people will be injured or killed on the world’s roads. Most of these injuries and deaths are totally preventable. There must be urgent and targeted action immediately: the lives of young people literally depend on it. And at Restless Development, we’ll be working with young people everywhere to hold leaders accountable.