Re-thinking for safer mobility: Injecting accountability and inclusion into road safety

#CommitToAct – Our Roads, Our Right

Phillipa Tucker

Presentation at the launch of the “The Day Our World Crumbled: The Human Costs of Inaction on Road Safety” 2020

In twenty years of working on data – HIV, malaria, sexual and gender-based violence, child health, personal finance, lesbian, gay trans and queer exclusion, education, forced marriage, and political oppression included – I have never seen such senseless violence, pain, loss and damage as with this dataset. I emphasize senseless because, for example, with violence against people because of being gay, we still have to figure out exactly what the solutions are to get people to shift their attitudes. With road safety, on the other hand, we know precisely what works; we know what to do, who should do it and where and how. But something holds us back!

This data clearly shows that based on the level of formal education, a road crash can have different impacts on your life. The data also shows that depending on your income, you are more vulnerable or protected when you experience a road crash. Higher income and higher levels of education also protect us or our children from dropping out of school or university, losing our jobs/source of income, having to sell our household goods to cover costs of a road crash. Money and education also prevent us having to stay home to care for those temporarily or permanently injured (and the resulting loss of income), and even has an impact on worse outcomes in terms of disability and divorce! Geographic location addas another layer of risk or safety: If you experience a road crash in a well-off country, your outcomes will be better than they will be in a poorer country.

There is no doubt in my mind that road safety is an area of life where money has a protective effect and that road crashes discriminate against poor people. Road safety needs to be taken very seriously as an issue of inequality. We know from research that an episode of malaria and the resulting clinic fees can push a family into multi-generational poverty, how much more so this disease on our roads that not only leads to deaths but also to physical and mental disability and the resulting morbidity (inability to work, contribute to a household by growing food, getting an income etc.). Road crashes are indeed creating inequality as it pushes those affected into deeper poverty. This de facto then means that road crashes are undermining the development efforts of hundreds of thousands of organisations around the globe. And is making the financial investment in these development activities null and void and undermining the economic development of countries.

So let’s talk road safety as a human rights issue and the sustainable development goals, and not just the targets that have the word “road” or “transport” in them, think about the goals.

  • The right to be free of poverty and hunger (Goal 1 and 2)
  • The right to life (Goal 3: Good health and wellbeing)
  • The right to education (Goal 4: Quality Education)
  • The right to freedom of movement (how many women have to choose between walking along a dangerous road where they risk being hit by a car, or across a dark field where they risk being raped?) (Goal 5: Gender equality)
  • The right to safety and security (Goal 16: Peace, justice, inclusion, reduced violence and promoting the rule of law)
  • The right to the highest attainable standard of health (Goal 3: Good health and wellbeing)
  • The right to have a family (17% of respondents reported losing a direct family member, 17%! (A child, a parent, a sibling or a life partner. Not cousins, not grandparents, direct family member). One woman wrote that her husband was killed in a car crash six weeks after their wedding when she was thirty years old. She had reached forty years old and never met another man she loved and so had never had a chance to have the children she and her husband had planned.
  • The right to bodily integrity (basically the choice to do what I want with my body) and walk and travel in safe places whether a person of colour or lesbian, gay, trans or a woman (Goal 5 and 10)
  • The right to safe and paid work and a country with economic opportunities (Goal 8: decent work and economic growth)
  • Safe spaces (Goal 11: Sustainable cities and communities)

So let’s talk solutions, from my perspective. Disclaimer! I am not an expert in road safety. All I learned, I learned from the incredible team at the Global Alliance, but I am no expert. For what it is worth, these are just a few ideas on how to put some accountability into road safety.

  1. We need to acknowledge that in building movements that a broader spectrum of players is vital. We need technical experts who advise governments behind closed doors, we need NGOs led by communities affected by the issue (whether the issue is HIV, rape, or road crashes), and we need those who will litigate against governments that do not do their job to protect us. We also need the angry marching, tomato-throwing masses who will make those NGOs look more reasonable. Power is never given, it needs to be taken, and the road safety community needs to find their own #metoo, their own Extinction rebellion, their own anger and create a critical mass of people who support your cause. You need to be okay with some of you not being reasonable, some of you not being patient, but being angry, demanding and threatening. You need to find your rebel leaders. Use publicity stunts, what is the worst they are going to do? Arrest you? How many HIV activists got imprisoned? How many #blacklivesmatter activists will be arrested before we have racial equality? If you can do it safely in your country, in your context, then do it! And don’t worry about upsetting the government people, they have had worse, believe me. Their job is to hear you. Get angry! Throw tomatoes!
  2. Make road safety an electoral issue. Road safety is a valence issue. This means it is a topic on which all or most of the electorate agree (for example good health, prosperity, education). Most valence issues have 70-80 % support. Road safety is not an issue where much controversy exists. It is an issue where we have about 95% support. Almost nobody will ever stand up and say no to road safety! This is good for us as activists because it means we can more easily make it an electoral issue. How to make something an electoral issue? A: Circulate questionnaires to candidates from all parties asking them to state their position on road safety and what they will do for road safety if elected. Use this to better understand their position and intended response, advocate for the best candidates and then hold them accountable to their promise. This can be done on all levels, whether it is the chair of the school committee, your street community group, your municipal elections or national elections. B: Attend debates, electoral spaces and call on candidates at all electoral levels (town hall meetings, open letters, online) to state their positions on road safety and make tangible commitments in their manifestos. Develop resources for activists to speak to this matter as an electoral and human rights issue. Obviously, this advice is for spaces where the democratic governance is the rule and not the exception. In closed and oppressive communities and countries different tactics are necessary to preserve the lives of activists.
  3. Think intersectional, think interconnectedness: We are all multi-faceted human beings, who do not just suffer under one oppression, but who struggle with many oppressions: The idea of a movement that only speaks to one theme or topic is dying, and the interconnectedness of movements is being better tapped: women being raped on buses; trans people being beaten in tube stations, sex workers being hit by cars on dark streets, transport security harassing people of colour, people with no homes or income having unwelcome street furniture placed in transport hubs to stop them begging and sleeping under cover. Has anybody asked the transgender people int heir city how they would change the transport system to make it more welcoming for queer and trans people? Many of these transport issues intersect with the stigma and discrimination that other very vibrant and successful movements are trying to erase. Reach out to other movements, find connections, learn from their tactics and strategies and share yours, so they can learn. Create a critical mass, the larger, powerful sheer number of people that demand accountability.
  4. Mobility, criminalisation and the police: Stakeholders need to begin to consider alternatives to criminalisation and policing in and around transport systems: criminalisation and policing hasn’t helped any movement, whether it be stopping drugs, sex work, hiv transmission. It has failed and it is failing the road safety movement too. People who are perceived to be a causal factor in road crashes should not be criminalised in all cases. The onus sits with governments to provide safe roads, safe vehicles, a safe regulatory infrastructure and a rule of law that ensures every person willingly plays an active role in creating safe mobility. As duty-bearers their role is to educate the public, and ensure that there is uncoerced support and participation in safe transport for all. Placing security and police in transport systems also brings the violence and power that they wield into the mobility system. If the police are racist, misogynistic or otherwise display discriminations, they make the transport system less safe for people of colour, women, LGBT people, people who are poor, people who use drugs etc. Examples of discriminations and violence inflicted by police and security are int he thousands, examples include road blocks at which migrant people are stopped and arrested without a real basis, underground stations where black men are strangled by security on unfounded suspicions, or women being sexually aggressed by security and police at stops. The transport system does not need police, and it is not an opportunity to police the people.

Finally, I can close by saying that this research needs to continue. The Global Alliance should be well funded to continue digging into this data and expanding the scope of the work and looking at changes over time.