Mayor Bloomberg joined World Bank President Robert Zoellick, Julie Katzman, Executive VP of Inter-American Development Bank; Michelle Yeoh, Global Ambassador for Make Roads Safe Campaign; and Andrey Vasilyev, Deputy Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Europe at the World Bank in Washington DC today to address efforts to reduce global traffic fatalities. The following are Mayor Bloomberg’s remarks as prepared for delivery.
Good afternoon. Thank you, Roger, and thank you, Bob. You should know that Bob and I were actually together just a few weeks ago for a conference on new energy up in New York City. It was just the two of us, sitting in the Central Park boathouse in the rain. Most people said it was very romantic. Neither Bob nor I thought of it that way, but nevertheless, it was quite something.
Still, I am deeply honored to be here for the launch of what I think could become one of the most effective efforts ever to reduce traffic fatalities worldwide. And it couldn’t come at a more pressing moment.
Around the world, road traffic injuries are taking the lives of 145 people every hour of every day. 145 people every hour, every day. Just think about that, that’s more than two a minute. And that adds up to something like 1.3 million people dying on the world’s roads each year – and a further 20 to 50 million people suffering injuries, often debilitating ones. But make no mistake about it: this is a problem that affects us all – especially the world’s poorest. Ninety percent of these fatalities occur in the world’s rapidly urbanizing low- and middle-income nations.
And at the same time, 74 million new cars are hitting the world’s roads each year – roughly half of those in low- and middle-income nations. And if you do the math, that works out to roughly 65 new cars a minute. And I said, two people getting killed every minute. Now, as new roads get built, and more cars and drivers take to the road, the problem of road safety will only get worse. In fact, the World Health Organization – WHO – predicts that traffic crashes will become the world’s 5th leading cause of death by the year 2030. The fifth leading cause of death. That is, unless we take action right now.
Since entering office in 2002, I’ve strongly believed in leading by example, and we’ve worked very hard to improve road safety in New York City by a combination of engineering innovations, stronger enforcement, and public information campaigns. For instance, by engineering traffic signals and expanding medians, we’ve given people more time to cross wide streets safely. We’ve expanded bike lanes, and we’ve seen a rise in safety for everyone using those roads. And by licensing our pedicab industry – a pedicab, if you don’t know, is a two or three seat cart pulled by a bicycle – the passengers are now protected from irresponsible operators, and that really was something that was getting out of hand.
Our efforts have produced results. Since 2004, there have been fewer traffic fatalities each year on our streets than at any time since the year 1910, which was the first year these kinds of statistics began to be kept. Now, my mother was born in 1909, and she will tell you that in those days they didn’t have automobiles so just think about where we’ve come. Safer today than we were then, population was much smaller, and no automobiles in those days. Today, lots of automobiles, much bigger population. It just goes to show that you can make a difference. Bob and I joked that you say, ‘In God we trust, everyone else bring data.’ Well the data is clear. If we work hard, we can reduce traffic fatalities and accidents.
Our record of improving safety in New York encouraged me to try to replicate this same success around the world, and it also inspired us to act at the fact that road safety has not typically been a top priority – yet the number of lives that could potentially be saved is incredible. And Kelly Henning who runs the public health part of Bloomberg philanthropies tries to focus on those things where nobody else focuses on. Smoking, which will kill a billion people this century, or traffic deaths which will become the fifth largest killer by the year 2030. I think that we can really make a difference.
Of course, we also understand that the solutions that have worked in New York will never exactly translate to the rest of the world. After all, one of the biggest steps that developing nations around the world must take to reduce road accidents is to build safe roads from scratch – and that’s a challenge that we did not have to face in New York.
But as we’ve learned in our city over the past nine years, many other interventions can be effective as well. That includes promoting the use of seatbelts and helmets, tougher enforcement of drinking and driving laws, safer speed controls and improved mass transit options. We also know that in other areas our foundation is focused on – like tobacco control – effective action in the public arena can make a difference and save millions of lives.
Now, drawing on these lessons, our foundation has launched a five-year, $125 million program to improve road safety around the world. Our campaign is targeting the 10 low- and middle-income countries that make up almost half of all road traffic fatalities worldwide. And as with all of our foundation’s efforts, collaboration is key. By focusing our resources on organizations that are closest to the ground, we strive to make the biggest impact.
While we are only about a year-and-a-half into this work, we think we’ve already seen some very impressive gains. For example, we’ve worked with the World Health Organization to develop the ‘Global Status Report on Road Safety’ – which essentially provides a baseline of information against which we can measure any future progress. Remember what I said about data – if you can’t measure it, you can’t fix it. In Guadalajara, our efforts have led to a new, tough drunk driving law – which is a great victory since Guadalajara, the tequila capital of the world, has had a terrible track record with drunk driving. Yes they make tequila, yes that tequila’s good, but tequila and roads just don’t mix. And in Rio, we’ve worked with the government there to implement critical safety improvements along the city’s 34-kilometer-long bus rapid transit route. That will not only help keep the route’s riders safe; we also hope it will encourage drivers to leave their cars at home and take the bus instead. In fact, if you take a look from an environmental point of view in New York City, New York City is exactly the reverse of virtually every other city in the world. Only 20 percent of our pollution comes from transportation and 80 percent comes from buildings. New Yorkers live much more densely, and they take mass transit and walk, and therefore don’t pollute as much from transportation.
Now we’re certainly proud to have the World Bank as a key partner in our campaign to reduce traffic fatalities. Using our funding, the World Bank is conducting safety inspections of high-risk roads in three of our 10 target nations – India, China, and Russia. That information will be invaluable to these countries as they make targeted improvements and build new roads. Under our partnership, the World Bank has also been working to help the governments of these three countries strengthen their road safety programs. And I do want to thank Bob Zoellick and all of the staff at the World Bank for really understanding another way they can make a difference, and jumping on and really trying to translate ideas into saving lives.
The new Multilateral Development Bank Road Safety Initiative dovetails perfectly, I think, with this work that we’re doing. And I believe it’s going to have a major impact for two reasons. Number one, the Development Banks’ unique capacity to get big things done. As I mentioned earlier, we won’t be able to save lives on a large scale unless countries start building safe roads. And let’s be clear: I’m not talking simply about new roads. Countries will be building roads no matter what, but what we really need is to make sure that these new roads are safe roads. It can cost a little bit more, but the cost of treating people who are injured, the impact on the economies of these countries, makes these investments give you a return virtually right away.
The second reason is simply this: the momentum is building. The United Nations has signaled its commitment to this issue and next month is set to kick off its ‘Decade of Action for Road Safety’ initiative. That’s going to really help us draw the attention and resources we think we need to meet this challenge. In fact, the goals and principles of the UN’s initiative align almost perfectly with our initiative and the Development Banks initiative. Combined, I think we can make a huge impact. So I want to thank the Development Banks for their continued commitment to this issue – and in particular, in addition to Bob, I want to thank Julie Katzman for great leadership.
Improved road safety is an epic challenge – but one that I think is our responsibility to confront head on. This is something that kills an awful lot of people, and injures an awful lot of others. It’s going to be, as I said before, the fifth largest killer, and nobody’s been focusing on it. We can make a difference, and I know most of you feel the same way. And I pledge to do everything that I can do. Patti Harris, who runs our foundation, understands the issue, and you can rest assured the Bloomberg Philanthropies will continue to fund some of her efforts. With important forces coalescing, with the momentum really starting to build, this really is our opportunity to save millions of lives – or if I can boast a little bit, the way the Bloomberg School of Public Health phrases it, saving millions of lives millions at a time. We really can make a difference. Let’s not waste it.