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Should the UN Appoint the President of Formula One as its Special Envoy on Road Safety?

Jean Todt

The United Nations has appointed Jean Todt, head of Formula 1, as UN Special Envoy on Road Safety, much to the ire of road safety and pedestrian groups.

From the evidence presented below the UN risks giving the impression that it is paying far too much attention to lobby groups on behalf of automotive industries in formulating its policies and campaigns for road safety and future transport, and is thereby missing many tricks that can save lives and improve the qualities of lives for millions in the future.

It is a mystery why, for example, they have completely ignored the great work of The Vision Zero Initiative.

Last year I did an interview with Claes Tingvall, the Director of Traffic Road Safety at the Swedish National Road Administration in Stockholm, where he founded Vision Zero. (page 42 of this magazine)

This campaign aims to achieve a highway system with low or no fatalities or serious injuries. In April this year New York City became the first American city to adopt this policy.

The road lobby, represented by groups such as the International Road Transport Union (IRU), is extremely good at lobbying policymakers as I have written before.

Hasn't Ban Ki-Moon heard of the $90 trillion plan to rid the world of cars?  

Does not have a vision of a world without cars and the multiple benefits that would ensue?

Does he not realise that transport policies of the future which prioritise public transport and driverless cars could cut the number of cars on the road by 90%?

Formula 1 and Road Safety

Formula 1 has for many years been lobbying and campaigning against road deaths. In fact it is behind the UN's making 2011-2020 the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety.

Strangely enough the interview I did last year with Claes Tingvall was commissioned by and appeared in Auto, the magazine of the Formula One Association (F1A). In the same issue, which was completely devoted to road safety, is an article explaining how the FIA is working with the WHO and the World Bank to ensure that the goals of this Decade are met throughout the world.

FIA Foundation Director General Saul Billingsley is quoted in the article as saying: "Securing the Decade of Action was a significant advance. But now the challenge is to take this UN resolution and translate it into tangible and sustained action that saves lives".

It goes on to quote Pierre Guislain, the World Bank's Senior Director for Transport and Information & Communications Technology (ICT) Global Practice: "This has meant creating scalable projects that bring together relevant sectors such as transport, health, enforcement, education and non-governmental organisations," says An example is the bank's engagement with Argentina to strengthen its national crash data collection system, which led to the creation of a larger road safety observatory for the Latin America region.

"The World Bank works closely with the FIA to raise country-level awareness at regional events of national auto clubs, which attract senior government officials. All these efforts are important contributions towards improving road safety around the world, and show that collaboration between the private and public sectors are critical to achieving greater impact," says Guislain.

Jean Todt

There's also an interview with Jean Todt himself, who says that his life has been devoted to motorsport but he has lost many friends in accidents and this was one of the reasons that he set up ICM in Paris (L'Institut du Cerveau et de la Moelle Épinière), an institute devoted to medical research for brain and spinal cord disorders. He says that in his role as president of the FIA, he has campaigned for road safety all over the world. " Our clubs carry out training, awareness raising, consumer testing, and other actions around the world every day. In many cases it is our clubs who are the driving force convincing authorities to act."

I wouldn't want for a second to doubt the sincerity of Todt, nor to decry the effort that they make to reduce casualties. That this is very important and vital work in an organisation with the wealth and size of FIA is in a powerful position to carry it out.

AVAAZ petition

There is an Avaaz petition against Todt's appointment. It was begun by the Association for Urban Mobility in Bicycle (MUBI) a Portuguese association of bicycle users. It says it "is not against cars or the automobile industry and motor sports in closed circuits. However, we strongly believe that a genuine willingness to pursue a true and sustainable road danger reduction implies necessarily that the world's governments drastically change their transportation policies, making safety and sustainable mobility a top priority."

It complains that the appointment of Jean Todt sends the wrong message to the world because it is precisely his biased point of view that can oppose the aims of a genuine and sustainable road danger reduction. "FIA also includes in its by-laws that their first mission is 'upholding the interests of its members in all international matters concerning automobile mobility and tourism and motor sport'."

The UN High-Level Advisory Group on Sustainable Transport

In August last year UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon announced the members of an advisory group that will promote sustainable transport. It's led by one person from the private sector, Olof Persson, CEO of the Volvo Group, and one from the public sector, Carolina Tohá, the mayor of Santiago, Chile.

The High-Level Advisory Group on Sustainable Transport is expected to provide "a global message and recommendations on sustainable transport, including an innovative policy". It said upon launch that it wouldl launch its "global transport Outlook report" by 2015 and is intended to "mobilise action among key actors" with recommendations for action at global, national, local and sector levels. However no publication has been seen it yet.

Persson's Volvo Group will be looking, its website says, to increase its market share and make sure its trucks are used to transport goods, despite the fact that other members of the group will be wanting to shift freight to railways.

Volvo does not make bikes. So it's fairly safe to say that Persson will not be advocating bike lanes and bank share schemes.

Other members of the group include:

  • the CEO of Deutsche Post DHL;
  • the Secretary-General of China Energy Fund Committee, an NGO;
  • the Deputy Minister of Interior of the Russian Federation;
  • the Secretary-General of the International Association of Public Transport;
  • the Director-General of the International Union of Railways;
  • the CEO of Services and Other Shipping;
  • the President of the International Society of City and Regional Planners; and
  • the CEO of Interferry.

It is not clear from this list who will be an advocate for cycling and walkability.

Given that there are many people like Claes and the tireless workers of Embarq, now WRICities (who post virtually every day on this website) and who create pilot projects and compile enormous amounts of research in their global network, who are not tainted by the automobile industry and who see things much more clearly, I'm inclined to agree with those Portuguese cyclists.

I wonder what you think?