Senior members of the Moldovan Government joined road safety campaigners and donor agencies on October 9th to pledge their support for action to combat the growing crisis of road deaths in the Republic of Moldova.The launch of the new Make Roads Safe Moldova Campaign was hosted by the World Bank Country Office in Moldova with the support of the FIA Foundation, global Make Roads Safe Campaign and the Eastern Alliance for Safe and Sustainable Transport (EASST).

Acting President and Speaker of the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova, Mr Mihai Ghimpu, speaking at a UK Embassy reception in honour of the Make Roads Safe Moldova Campaign

The conference was organised by Serghei Diaconu – President of the Automobile Club of Moldova, 2009 FIA Foundation Road Safety Scholar and EASST-Moldova partner – along with Emma MacLennan, Director of EASST. The ACM has been campaigning since 2007 to raise road safety awareness in Moldova, including activities to promote child car seat and seatbelt use, or raise issues such as drink-driving and mobile phone use. Their efforts were mirrored by the Automobile Club of Transnistria, whose President, Mr Andrei Stebunov, spoke at the launch conference about the ACT’s efforts to engage the local community on road safety. This year the two clubs signed a cooperation agreement to coordinate their activities and exchange information to promote road safety.

The conference was opened by Melanie Marlett, Country Manager for Moldova for the World Bank. She welcomed the initiative, underlining the huge economic cost to Moldova of road deaths and injuries: Each fatality on Moldova’s roads costs the equivalent of US$ 511,000 to their economy, not to mention the human cost of each life lost and each injured person. She called for a National Board for Road Safety in Moldova to make this a priority.

The event had tremendous support from the new government in the Republic of Moldova. Speaking at the conference Mr Seraphim Urechean, First Deputy Speaker of the Parliament, expressed his thanks on behalf of the Parliament for the campaign launch. He said there was much work to do. Road safety touches on many issues for government including road design and road quality, discipline in road traffic, good signing, the role of the traffic police, and of course culture and the behaviour of road users. It is important to involve all participants to achieve results. He pointed to the most recent statistics for Moldova – with nearly 600 fatalities and some 3,000 serious traumas a year on the roads – a tragic toll that “must be stopped.”

Mr Dorin Chirtoacă, the Mayor of Chişinău, strongly echoed this sentiment. He welcomed the involvement by international donors and partners in the construction and rehabilitation of Moldova’s roads. Every new kilometre of road was beneficial for Moldova’s economic development. But “Moldova does not need more bad roads,” he said. It will be important to ensure international standards in construction and safe design. He pointed to other issues – such as the ageing vehicle fleet and, not least, the human factor. What is needed to encourage a road safety culture is not just punishment, but education for the public and for the police who enforce the laws.

Dr Valeriu Cerba, Advisor to the Minister of Internal Affairs, read a speech by Minister Victor Catan (who was unable to attend in person due to the Parliamentary Assembly of the CIS meeting in Moldova that day). He pointed to the fact that the growing number of cars in Moldova – coupled with the many challenges to road safety – resulted in a constant upward trend in road crashes. The aim was to cut road deaths by 50% by 2010, but without urgent action and support reductions would not be possible. His priorities for the mid-term were to improve the equipment and training available to the police, increase the use of automation in enforcement (which also reduces the risk of corruption), launch new public awareness campaigns and finally, work with other organisations to achieve results. This would take time, but could have a very positive impact.

Serghei Diaconu, EASST Moldova partner, speaking at the Make Roads Safe Moldova launch. In the foreground – Mr Anatol Salaru, Minister for Transport and Road InfrastructureMr Anatol Şalaru, Minister for Transport and Road Infrastructure, spoke of Moldova’s important location as a European neighbour. Roads in Moldova effect the movement of goods, trade and tourism, and the extra costs associated with poor roads can act as a disincentive or barrier to all three. The deplorable situation of the roads has cost lives – One third of accidents in Moldova are due to poor roads. The new government’s programme will be to increase security on the roads and reduce crashes, upgrade the road infrastructure, connect Moldova more effectively to pan-European networks, and increase road investment. He welcomed the Make Roads Safe Campaign, and pledged that his Ministry would join in its aims.

Governor Mihail Formuzal, Bashcan of the Gagauz Eri, underlined the importance of road safety for Gagauzia. Over the past ten years 241 people have died in his region, while 1,118 people have been traumatised and disabled for life. Each case was a tragedy, leaving orphans, widows and grieving communities. The reasons for road crashes must be understood: Over a third involve pedestrians, many involve alcohol and speeding. While they have penalised more than 4,000 drivers so far this year, more is needed to achieve results. The Bashcan, too, supported the call for a mass media and education campaign, greater road safety awareness, improvements in road quality and the role and equipment of the police. This initiative would be welcome in Gagauzia.

HE Ambassador Keith Shannon of the United Kingdom and HE Ambassador Asif Chaudhry of the USA both gave their endorsements to the campaign. They each spoke of the importance of this issue and called for everyone – leaders, the donor community, international partners, and not just governments – to play their role. Ambassador Chaudhry mentioned the substantial investment by the Millennium Challenge Corporation in Moldova’s road infrastructure. It was their aim to ensure road rehabilitation meets international standards and leaves a safe legacy for all road users.

Mr Dorin Chirtoaca, Mayor of Chisinau, speaking at the Make Roads Safe Moldova launchMr Calin Vieru MP – Ambassador of the Make Roads Safe Moldova Campaign – said he was honoured to have been given this role. His father, the esteemed Moldovan poet and literary hero Grigore Vieru, died in a car crash in Chişinău on January 18th, 2009. Calin Vieru said that if his father had been present, he would have welcomed the event and the warmth of response from all present. He felt there was a determination to change things for the better, and wished the campaign every success.

The Conference was chaired by Lord Dubs of Battersea, Chairman of the UK All Party Parliamentary Group on Moldova. Lord Dubs also chairs the Road Safety Foundation, promoting safe road design and assessment. He spoke passionately of the global challenge of reducing road deaths. He pointed out that global losses due to road traffic injuries are estimated to be US$ 518 billion, costing governments between 1% and 3% of their gross national product – In other words, more than the total amount low and middle-income countries receive in development assistance. He appealed to donors and road constructors to devote a minimum 10% of road infrastructure project costs to road safety; to the Moldovan government to adopt a cross-departmental national road safety action plan in partnership with local people, NGOs, academics, automobile associations and other stakeholders; and to all participants to work together to raise awareness of the issue to save lives.

Also speaking at the conference were John Dawson, the Chairman of the International Road Assessment Programme and Kate McMahon, Former Head of the Road Safety Strategy Division of the UK Department for Transport. Together they underlined the importance of the five major interventions proven to have an impact in saving lives: Using seatbelts, child car seats and helmets; tackling drink-driving; safe speeds; safe road infrastructure; and good emergency response. Of all these factors, the quickest gains can be achieved through safe road design. As Moldova’s roads are currently the target of major improvements, now is the time to put in the effort and resources to making Moldova’s roads safe for all users

Other speakers at the launch Conference included Inspector Superior Victor Gandraman, Chief of Public Relations for the Road Traffic Police of Moldova – a long-time campaigner for safe roads; Mr Ilie Bricicaru, Head of the Department for Drivers’ Examination; Mr Viorel Bulimaga, Secretary of the Police Road Traffic Commission; Ms Antoniţa Fonari, General Secretary of the National Council of NGOs of Moldova; and Mr Ion Stavilă, Deputy Minister of Reintegration for the Republic of Moldova, who warmly welcomed the campaign. In addition Presidents Serghei Diaconu of the Automobile Club of Moldova, and Andrei Stebunov of the Automobile Club of Transnistria set out their plans for future activities – particularly aimed at raising public awareness – and made clear their intention to continue their important work. This was echoed by Emma MacLennan, Director of the Eastern Alliance for Safe and Sustainable Transport, who pledged to facilitate their efforts.

Mr Calin Vieru MP, Ambassador for the Campaign, summed up the key message of the event: “This conference is just the start of what will be a very active campaign. We must work together to save lives on Moldova’s roads.”