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Volvo calls on UN to re-balance global road safety inequality

Wednesday, 4th March, 2020 4:32pm


Volvo is calling on the United Nations to help redress an overlooked inequality between the wealthy and developing countries of our world — road safety.

According to the Swedish car maker, in spite of progress made in recent decades, official data shows a significant gap in the number of traffic fatalities between both categories of countries.

The World Health Organisation estimates that annually 1.35 million people worldwide are killed on the road, but Volvo says that’s a figure that disproportionally affects the developing world. In fact, the data shows that you’re three times more likely to be killed in a road traffic accident in the developing world than in wealthier nations.

At the most basic level, Volvo is calling for greater enforcement of seatbelt use. Famously, Volvo engineer Nil Bohlin invented the now-ubiquitous three-point seatbelt in 1959, but the company decided not to take out a patent, because it knew how many lives could potentially be saved by the device, and wanted other companies to start using it without paying a fee.

At the third Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety, hosted by Sweden and the WHO, which was in Stockholm recently, Volvo said that seatbelts are the bedrock of road safety. “Global data shows that there is a significant inequality in road safety,” said Malin Ekholm, Head of the Volvo Cars Safety Centre.

“Those safety gaps need to be addressed through technology, but also by creating and enhancing a global safety culture. We need to understand and address the variation in seatbelt usage, while infrastructure should focus on improving the safety of vulnerable road users, pedestrians and cyclists.”

Volvo wants to ramp up its work with governments around the world when it comes to road safety, and last year it opened up swathes of its research database, going back to the 1980s, to anyone who was interested in the data — even rival car makers.

“Volvo Cars has a long tradition in improving safety through collaboration, a crucial success factor for our leadership in safety,” said Ekholm.

“Creating a better understanding of the value and need for adequate basic protection is crucial, and we need the help of the UN and national lawmakers to address this through legislation and information. At Volvo Cars, we look forward to being part of and contributing to this.”

As cyclists, pedestrians and motorcycle users represent more than half of global road deaths, Volvo is also recommending that UN member states also focus road safety spending on, for example, clearly delineated pedestrian and cyclist lanes with barriers to protect these most vulnerable road users.

By promoting such affordable and easy-to-realise infrastructure changes that keep motorised vehicles separate from pedestrians and cyclists, the company believes numerous lives can be saved.

Since the 1960s and 1970s, data from real-world crash investigations by Volvo has helped Swedish road authorities to introduce new safety features such as deformable lamp posts, updated guard rail designs and walkways separated from roads.

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