At the annual Transforming Transportation conference this month, WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities launched the new Vision Zero Challenge, an initiative to end road deaths by a coalition of global and local partners. Zoleka Mandela, who spoke at the launch of the Challenge, is an acclaimed global ambassador for road safety, especially when it comes to children.
In this episode of our podcast, Mandela joins WRI Vice President Lawrence MacDonald and WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities Deputy Director of Urban Mobility and Director of Health and Road Safety Claudia Adriazola-Steil.
Worldwide, traffic exacts a horrific toll. 1.35 million are killed every year on the road, and another 50 million are injured. This computes to a death every 24 seconds, a countdown that is continually getting shorter. For ages 9-29, this is the leading cause of death. "Can you imagine the level of sadness and loss we have around the world?" Adriazola-Steil said. "It's shocking.”
"We want this 1.3 million to become zero,” she continued. “That's our vision. Really aspiring to no one dying or being seriously injured on the road."
Our current road system leaves everyone vulnerable – it encourages collisions the human body cannot withstand. At only 30 km/h (18 mph), what many of us would consider no great speed, one in five people hit will die. “We need to build systems that take into account that people are fallible and vulnerable,” Adriazola-Steil said. “We know where and how these crashes happen. We need to work on the solutions.”
Mandela’s ambassadorship began from tragedy in her personal life. Her daughter was killed by a drunk driver in Johannesburg in 2010. "Quickly after her passing I started campaigning for road safety. It was important for me to bring hope to the families... These deaths are preventable, and there are things we can do to safeguard the lives of our children.” She speaks in the podcast about her work with Amend, who apply evidence-based interventions for road safety in Africa. "For instance, their measures in Accra cost $20,000-30,000 per school, and it gave me such a sense of hope to know that they were able to reduce the levels of injury by 50%," she said. They've done this by identifying high-risk areas and intervening with safe sidewalks and crossings.
"Just because our children live in developing countries," Mandela continued, they should not have to suffer. Nine in ten road deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries.
The failure to act is expensive to families and to national economies. It takes an average of two years for a person to return to work after a crash, and their salary is often reduced. An incident can send a family from the middle class to poverty. This loss affects everyone: road deaths can cost up to 3-4% of national productivity.
"We shouldn't be making the same mistakes over and over again," Adriazola-Steil added. Some places are making progress, with Bogotá frequently invoked. The hope is to expand on this leadership with the Vision Zero Challenge.
It's time for leaders to listen to mothers like Mandela. "In this day and age there's no need for children to take their lives into their own hands to access education," Mandela concluded. "As a mother, my plea would be for leaders to prioritize the needs of our children, the issues that are robbing our children of their lives."
"Our children are our future."