A new year – a time to be pessimistic and optimistic about road safety

So 2019 - New Year, new possibilities. I am indeed looking forward to getting into all the things that I have planned for this year, and with some trepidation to all things that will pop up which I did not plan for – although, they tend to be the ones that end up having the most impact and giving me the most energy back. On the international level, I am sure we will hear a lot about road safety concerns this year, as we are getting close to the end of the UN decade of action for road safety, which put down an ambitious goal to halve global road fatalities between 2010 and 2020. We will, I fear, fall far short of this target, and will have to face the stark truth that fatalities are still rising.
Peter Kronberg
Peter Kronberg

So, how should the international community respond to this? How will we mobilize to put together a solid action plan in time for the third UN ministerial conference on road safety to be held in Sweden 2020? It will indeed be an interesting year in the domain of road safety – hopefully one that ensures we enter the next decade of action firing on all cylinders, if you excuse a combustion-engine analogy in this time of electrification.

With the New Year come also the annual reports. Which, in the field of road safety, is rarely a source of good news. Sweden, my home base, and traditionally a frontrunner in area of road traffic safety, put to the records its worst year in the last decade – 325 fatalities, up from 253 the year prior, which incidentally was the “best” year in modern times.

Many other countries are showing similar trends, or at best, a leveling-off of progress in reducing road fatalities. Time and in-depth analysis will tell whether these trends are simply chance effects, socio-economic effects, or signs of a degrading traffic system and safety culture.

So, it is in this frame of mind I travel to India to speak at the 2019 SIAT conference, arranged by ARAI. I have the honor to present a plenary talk to open the vehicle safety session.

India is a country facing the toughest of challenges. More than 150 000 fatalities every year, or closer to 300 000 if we are to believe the WHO estimates (as described in their excellent Global Status Report on Road Safety 2018). On top of this, there is a whole range of environmental and social challenges to address.

The road safety problem in India is likely to grow since India’s economy is growing fast, along with extreme population growth and high levels of urbanization, all of which drive transport demand, and exacerbate the problem.

Because, like so many other fast-growing economies, there is a rapid increase in the number of vehicles and road users crowding a transport system that is far from ready to handle the burden, combined with critical gaps in important transport policies.

But, there are reasons to be optimistic too, both in India and elsewhere. The poor state of road safety is recognized and the imperative of safe and sustainable transports is put into policy, both globally and nationally – although more remains to be done. Safety technology is developing rapidly and becoming viable in more and more market segments.

I do not believe there are many shortcuts to road safety. However, through strong policy decisions, and support for the development and deployment of sustainable transport technologies, transformative changes are possible, so that India and the rest of the world can take leaps rather than steps towards safer roads.
I wish you a safe and prosperous New Year!

Peter Kronberg
Safety Director, Volvo Group

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