Michelle Yeoh: Scale-up road safety as SDG priority

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iRAP CEO Rob McInerney gave recognition to the Chinese road assessment programme, ChinaRAP for its work on highway safety.
iRAP CEO Rob McInerney gave recognition to the Chinese road assessment programme, ChinaRAP for its work on highway safety.

Global road safety ambassador and actress Michelle Yeoh (main picture above) has joined leading international experts in Beijing to address the public health crisis of road traffic injuries.

‘Road Safety in Asia 2016’ has been supported by the FIA Foundation and co-organised by its partner the International Road Assessment Programme (iRAP) and the Global Road Safety Partnership (GRSP). With over 180 attendees from 24-26 May, the conference is focusing on road safety across the Asia Pacific region, and the contribution of different stakeholders to the ambitious road safety targets set out in the new UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

A key session was hosted by WHO China focusing on the SDG objective to halve road deaths worldwide by 2020.

Michelle Yeoh, who is a United Nations Development Programme Goodwill Ambassador, called for urgent action to deliver the road safety SDG targets.

“Around the world, I’ve seen the terrible impact that road crashes have on people’s lives. Making the world’s roads safe for everyone will help to deliver on the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda of ‘Transforming our World’. We must act now to make this issue a global priority,” she said at the WHO China Health Dialogue.

Michelle Yeoh called on governments and the international community to scale-up the response to the man-made epidemic of road traffic injuries. She highlighted work carried out by the Chinese government and iRAP to improve highway safety design and city level initiatives to reduce road traffic fatalities. “In cities from New York to Sao Paolo to Johannesburg they are finding that if you provide safe crossings, sidewalks and reduce the traffic speed you save lots of lives. Right away. 20% reduction in deaths in a couple of years in some of these cities. So it is possible, there’s no excuse not to try, and if we can make roads safe and reduce this horrible human suffering we will truly have transformed our world,” she said.

An award winning actress, Michelle has served as a road safety ambassador for the FIA Foundation and earlier the Make Roads Safe campaign since 2008. She is currently the Spokesperson for the FIA’s High Level Panel for Road Safety. In extensive campaigning and advocacy work on global road safety Michelle has visited many countries on behalf of the Foundation. She led the ‘Call for a Decade of Action’ in 2008-2009 and spoke on the issue at the UN General Assembly on behalf of her own country, Malaysia, in 2010 and 2014. Her work supporting road safety in Cambodia was recognised by the country’s Deputy Prime Minister in 2014. She is currently also a prominent supporter of the #SaveKidsLives campaign.

Hosting the Health Dialogue session, Dr Bernhard Schwartländer, WHO Representative in China said: “Countries cannot develop sustainably when this many people are dying and being injured on the world’s roads, as they go about their daily lives. Road crashes impoverish families, ruin livelihoods, and impose a heavy burden on countries’ health systems, societies and economies.”

In China, WHO estimates that approximately 260,000 people die as a result of road accidents each year. Of the total estimated deaths, around 6 in 10 are vulnerable road users – pedestrians, cyclists, and people on motorcycles.

“By definition, the millions of road traffic deaths and injuries which occur around the world every year are preventable. While this is an utter travesty, it also means that with the right amount of resources and determination to make changes today, it is entirely within the realm of possibility to create a better and safer tomorrow,” Dr Schwartländer said.

Earlier during Road Safety in Asia 2016 iRAP CEO Rob McInerney gave recognition to the Chinese road assessment programme, ChinaRAP for its work on highway safety. The team at China’s Research Institute of Highways (RIOH) and the Ministry of Transport have used their road assessment programme to measure the safety of more than 100,000km of roads in China, and also influence the upgrade of more than 30,000km of roads in 2015 alone. Their work is part of the State Council supported “Highway Safety to Cherish Life” programme that will focus investment on upgrading the safety of road infrastructure over the next 5 years with more than 100,000km of roads to be improved and many lives saved by 2020.