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World Youth Assembly meets to tackle road safety

World leaders, musicians show support

Young people from more than 100 countries gathered today at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, for the first ever World Youth Assembly for Road Safety and to mark the first UN Global Road Safety Week.

In the Youth Declaration for Road Safety agreed by delegates to the Assembly, all 400 young people commit to taking practical measures to improve road safety and call upon other young people to do the same. The delegates pledge to wear seatbelts and motorcycle helmets and to avoid speeding and drink-driving.

The declaration calls on all young people to "stand up and participate in local and national campaigns and programmes" and urges adults to do more: "We call upon you our parents and guardians, our heroes and mentors to serve as role models," says the introduction to the declaration.

The declaration also calls for more political will at national and community level to tackle road safety. It urges schools and universities to teach young people about safety, bartenders to serve alcohol responsibly, media to report more widely and more responsibly about the lack of road safety, and celebrities and the entertainment industry not to glamourize speed and to wear seatbelts and helmets.

Biggest killer of young people

Opening the meeting, WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan referred to the first death that resulted from a car crash, in 1896. On that occasion the coroner reportedly remarked that "this should never happen again". However, "today an estimated 1.2 million people lose their lives every year," Dr Chan said. "Focusing on youth is very appropriate. Youth has the energy and persuasive power needed to help address what we now know is the biggest killer worldwide of people aged 10-24 years."

Dignitaries making statements at the opening of the Assembly included Tony Blair, British Prime Minister. In his videotaped statement, Mr Blair focused on the costs of road traffic injuries, and how these add a particular burden to economies struggling with other competing issues. He stressed the parallels between efforts to achieve wider development goals and tackling road traffic injuries, noting the need for road safety to move up on the wider global development agenda.

The musician Moby noted the disproportionate reaction that road traffic crashes elicit: "They don't cause an outcry, or trigger a political reaction. Instead they 'just' destroy families, classes, friendships, and lives." He urged young people involved to ensure that the reach of this event is not short-lived: "Make it the beginning of something. The start of a global campaign…take control."

Bright Ambeyi recounted her personal experience as a road traffic victim in Kenya. Hit by a speeding vehicle in 1997, she was paralyzed from the waist down. "From a very active and social person, I had become invisible", she recounts, explaining how the inaccessible physical environment limited her ability to venture out. "I had lost the use of my limbs, lost privacy, lost self esteem… and I actually felt like I had lost myself."

Young people attending the event represented more than 100 countries, and are involved in a vast array of road safety efforts. Their experiences include programmes in Australia, China, Egypt, Lebanon, Tunisia, and Zambia.

The meeting will lead to the creation of a global network of young road safety ambassadors who intend to conduct national and global activities. It is also expected that the declaration will be taken from country to country and be presented to national parliaments and disseminated widely to local media.

To mark the first UN Global Road Safety Week, from 23 to 27 April, hundreds of events are being organized around the world, including:

  • In London, at an event organized by the Make Roads Safe campaign, the former Formula 1 champion Michael Schumacher joined forces with Lord Robertson, the former Secretary General of NATO, HRH Prince Michael of Kent and a number of road safety organizations. They issued a powerful call for action to governments, urging that a commitment for road infrastructure projects should be accompanied by increased investment in road safety, and proposing that a ministerial conference on road safety be organized under the auspices of the United Nations.
  • In Ghana, the nongovernmental organization Amend organized a campaign named "Be Safe, Be Seen" to increase the visibility of school children on the roads through the distribution of reflectors as well as educational material on road safety.
  • In Brussels, Belgium, the European Commission is organizing a European Road Safety Day on 27 April, focusing on the themes of alcohol and drugs in traffic, training and education.
  • In Nigeria, the Federal Road Safety Commission will launch a road safety campaign aimed particularly at commercial drivers, to increase their understanding of the causes of crashes and opportunities for prevention. The campaign will draw particular attention to the importance of the use of the seat-belt.
  • In Vietnam, the Asia Injury Prevention Foundation will launch a one-year "Wear a helmet - no excuse" road safety campaign, the launch of which will include two outdoor rock concerts, helmet fashion shows, interviews with victims and survivors, and engagement of various media around these activities.
  • In Tucuman, Argentina, local government and nongovernmental organizations are working together to get all relevant institutions to sign an agreement to do more for road safety. Following the signing on 10 April, the municipality is devoting the month of April to road safety activities, including the introduction of new road safety curricula for schools.

Editor's notes

On the occasion of the 1st UN Global Road Safety Week, WHO released a report on Youth and Road Safety, which shows that road crashes are the biggest killer of young people between the ages of 10 and 24 and take the lives of 400 000 people under the age of 25 every year.

For further information, please contact:

Laura Sminkey
Technical Officer, WHO, Geneva
Tel: +41 22 791 4547
Mobile: +41 79 249 3520
E-mail: sminkeyl@who.int

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