The indispensable role of NGOs in road safety leadership
Road safety is fundamentally an issue of social justice. Ninety per cent of all road fatalities occur in low and middle-income countries and half of all road deaths are among vulnerable road users. Road fatalities exacerbate poverty and inequality, and road injuries can be life-changing; destroying an individual’s quality of life and opportunities.
Involving civil society in the development and delivery of road safety is therefore not only a matter of justice and inclusiveness; it is essential for effective and sustainable casualty reduction. It is a smart use of local road safety resources.
Every road death can be prevented by adopting a Safe System approach. This means shifting the emphasis of road safety management away from the notion that ‘human error’ causes crashes, and towards the idea of ‘forgiving’ and people-centred infrastructure designed to prevent death and injury. According to the International Transport Forum “effective leadership for a paradigm shift must also be sustained and focused on not only bringing the different stakeholders together, but also on keeping them together and leading them through the change process.”
In a survey conducted by EASST in 2018, 70 per cent of partners rated the level of road safety management in their countries 10 years ago as either poor (46%) or very bad (24%). Decision makers and policy makers showed little interest. There was no systematic approach to road safety management and there was a lack of coordination between stakeholders. This led to poor enforcement of traffic laws, corruption, a lack of government resources for road safety, roads falling into a bad state of repair, and, as a result, a high rate of road fatalities and serious injuries.
Building the capacity of civil society organisations is critical to implementing a Safe System. The influence of politicians and policymakers is only ever as long their term in office. Moreover, road safety is a multi-agency, multi-sectorial issue. It involves communication and cooperation between local and national government, transport agencies, traffic police, education and health departments and private industry, as well as local communities and road users. The priorities of these stakeholders can clash, resulting in numerous conflicting, short-term agendas being implemented simultaneously.
In this context, civil society organisations can provide the leadership and continuity needed to ensure sustainable and meaningful change. They help keep road safety on the government agenda and unite stakeholders with a common goal. They have a unique perspective on the impact of policies on local communities – and in particular on vulnerable road users – that is absolutely essential to good road safety outcomes. Strong, independent local civil society organisations with road safety expertise are indispensable.
“As an NGO we create a platform for all stakeholders and decision-makers to get together and discuss issues through meetings or roundtable discussions. Most of the time the representatives of these agencies say they don’t have the opportunity to get together and share their concerns, share their experience and knowledge, and to see where there’s a gap. So when you bring them altogether, you create a platform where you can discuss why problems are happening, how we can move forward and how we can improve.”
National Automobile Club of Azerbaijan
It has therefore been our goal to build the capacity of local NGOs in the 14 countries in which we work to fulfil this role. Being part of the EASST network means that our partners have access to financial support, training and expertise as well as international experience and best practice. All EASST partners view the network as an invaluable resource that has helped grow their organisation’s influence in road safety management in their countries and all have achieved tremendous results.
According to data taken from the World Health Organisation Global Status Report on Road Safety, 12 out of 14 EASST countries have seen a decline in the rate of road deaths since 2013 – with rates in Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan reducing significantly. On average, there has been a regional decrease in the average rate of road deaths from 17.9 people per 100,000 population (2015 report) to 15.9 (2018 report).
The success of the EASST model is that our partners are not only being recognised as the local experts and leaders on road safety and sustainability, they are also seen as international experts: frequently called upon to speak about their experiences and achievements at both a regional and global level.
However, despite the fact that road traffic injury is now the leading cause of death for children and young people globally, and the 8th leading cause of death overall, road safety has long been neglected as a serious development issue. In EASST partner countries, the rate of road fatalities remains significantly higher than the European average (9.3/100,000). The number of those who survive but whose lives are permanently affected by serious injury and disability is higher still. So there is still a long road ahead, but NGOs are leading the way.
 10 International Transport Forum (ITF), Zero Road Deaths and Serious Injuries: Leading a Paradigm Shift to a Safe System, (2016), http:// www.oecd.org/publications/zero-road-deaths-and-serious-injuries- 9789282108055-en.htm
 11 Ibid, p. 36.
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