Launch of "Decade of Action for Road Safety"

Speech

Parliament House, Canberra

11 May 2011

I am very happy to have this opportunity to talk about the Australian Government’s support of the Decade of Action for Road Safety.

Our government is committed to helping reduce the daily tragedy that occurs on the world’s roads.

The tragically large number of people killed or injured in road accidents is sometimes referred to as a ’silent epidemic' and it is one which disproportionately affects poor people in developing countries.

In Australia, we have highly successful road safety programs and I believe we are not only wellplaced to share our expertise but have an obligation to do so.

The Worldwide Epidemic

Worldwide about 1.3 million people lose their lives each year in road accidents, and as many as 20-50 million are injured. About 10 million of these are children.

The Asia Pacific region accounts for a disproportionate number of these deaths despite the fact that vehicle ownership is comparatively low.

There are many reasons for these high numbers. They range poorly designed and constructed roads, carrying too much traffic, to an absence of safety measures we take for granted in Australia such as wearing motorbike helmets, seatbelts and the use of child restraints.

It is estimated road accidents cut 2 to 5 per cent from Asia’s GDP because they reduce people’s ability to work and contribute to society.

As the economies of many countries in the region grow, we can expect to see a doubling of cars and motorcycles every 5-7 years.

But unless action is taken, we can also expect to see a substantial increase in the number of deaths and injuries.

And these figures don't tell the complete story - the human cost of traffic accidents, especially on the most vulnerable—the pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists, passengers and street vendors.

An accident may push these people into or further into poverty.

Australia’s International Support

Because of the link between road accidents, disability and poverty, the Australian Government has made road safety a feature of the aid program’s disability strategy.

When the strategy was launched a couple of years ago we said we would continue to build road safety into our infrastructure programs.

And we have.

Our support has helped Vietnam make it compulsory for motorcyclists to wear helmets.

This was a significant step forward. Before 2007, only 3 per cent of motorcyclists used helmets.

After the law changed, 95 per cent of motorcyclists were wearing helmets and in that first twelve months the number of road deaths fell by 1400 people, with 2 200 fewer serious injuries.

Where we provide funds and technical assistance for large road projects with the Asian Development Bank we incorporate safety audits and awareness programs.

This has been the case in Lao, Cambodia and Vietnam. In the case of Vietnam, our funds have been used to assess 3 500 kilometres of high-risk road.

We also support the Eastern Indonesia National Road Improvement Project.

This is the largest road project ever funded by AusAID, through a loan of $300 million, and aims to ensure 20 major roads and bridges in Indonesia are designed, built and maintained to a high standard for the long term.

Announcement

And so it is with great pleasure today that I announce that to mark the start of the Decade of Action for Road Safety, Australia will contribute $6.2 million over the next three years to the World Bank’s Global Road Safety Facility.

We have previously given the facility $1 million for its programs in low-income countries.

The additional funds will help the GRSF expand its activities, raising awareness of road safety and increase its ability to assist developing countries reduce accident related fatalities, especially in the Asia Pacific Region.

The Facility funds many different types of initiatives and solutions to improve road safety.

Recently it announced assistance to three Indian states to improve road safety on 3,000 km of high-risk roads. In India more than 200,000 pedestrians, cyclists and motorists die on the roads every year. That’s about 550 people every day.

In the Philippines, the Facility will fund inspections of more than 4,000 kilometres of the major roads. The project will also identify cost-effective improvements to help reduce road deaths and injuries.

Conclusion

I said at the outset, road accidents and injuries are like a silent epidemic.

If we do nothing, by 2030 road deaths could rank fifth in terms of global epidemics, surpassing HIV/AIDS.

In my view, doing nothing is not an option.

The Decade of Action for Road Safety gives us all the ideal opportunity to focus on this problem and put in place measures that will make roads across the region safer and, ultimately, save lives.

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