Global Cooperation

Road traffic fatalities are staggering – what's the private sector got to do with it?

A city street filled with lots of traffic at night, blurry: Road traffic fatalities stand at an annual 1.3 million, with 50 million people injured yearly.

Road traffic fatalities stand at an annual 1.3 million, with 50 million people injured yearly. Image: Unsplash/Joseph Chan

Paul Hudson
Chief Executive Officer, Sanofi
Jean Todt
UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy for Road Safety, United Nations
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  • Road crash deaths and injuries have reached worrying numbers, and low- and middle-income countries face the starkest proportion of fatalities.
  • Private sector players can help implement adequate road safety, for example, by enforcing stricter training standards.
  • Local and global public-private partnerships are necessary to make effective and systemic change.

Faced with deteriorating infrastructure, heightened distractions from cell phones and other technology, new types of mobility and ever more cars on the road, the number of traffic crash fatalities has reached staggering highs, with 1.3 million killed and as many as 50 million people injured yearly.

While it may seem like a problem for the public sector, make no mistake: we all have a role to play in road safety. The private sector’s participation can critically impact creating safer roads in our communities. This fact is particularly true in low and middle-income countries, which account for 93% of road traffic fatalities.

The global goal of the UN Road Safety Strategy is to reduce the toll of lives and injuries by 50% by 2030, as road crashes cost the worst affected countries between 3-5% of their annual gross domestic product.

Business leaders must consider how we can adapt our supply chains to meet this growing crisis. By implementing new, regionally and locally focused initiatives that address longstanding safety challenges, companies can reduce the risk of traffic crashes and, consequently, help make our roads safer and more economically viable.

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Implement and enforce global driver safety training

Around the world, we are facing a troubling spike in truck-related injuries perpetuated by a lack of driver safety training. In the United States alone, there is currently no minimum behind-the-wheel time before one can drive a double-trailer truck, as well as no required proof of ability to navigate through mountains, snow or rain.

In most countries, despite a UN agreement offering a model for legislation, there is no mandatory rest time limiting the number of hours truck drivers can spend behind the wheel without taking a break. Globally, certifications vary country by country, making it exceedingly difficult for companies to set and enforce stringent road safety policies. With road traffic injuries serving as the leading cause of death worldwide for those 5-29 years old, it’s clear that more must be done to prevent this tragic and unnecessary loss of life that represents our future workforce.

Accordingly, in every country, field drivers should be regularly trained semi-annually to ensure that they act according to the current needs of local infrastructure. Training line managers as “road safety coaches” should be an essential enforcement tool to provide proper oversight. Sanofi is just one of many examples showing the positive impact of training on industry and on mitigating crashes and industry.

For instance, after mandating stricter and more frequent driver training policies, we successfully lowered the total number of injuries from crashes from 98 in 2016 to 40 in 2022, out of a fleet of 17,000. By going above and beyond compliance requirements, companies can take a more proactive role in addressing safety needs to help prevent crashes along their supply chains.

Keep your vehicle fleet up-to-date

Globally, it’s estimated that cars on the road will double by 2050. Unfortunately, as millions of new cars come off the lot, those they replace are often exported to developing nations, growing the number of unsafe vehicles in low- and middle-income countries and consequently increasing the risk of fatalities and injuries. This growing pipeline highlights the need for periodic inspections of vehicles, already contained in the UN 1997 agreement.

Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, has the highest per capita rate of road fatalities of any region in the world, at 26.6 per 100,000 population, with preventable annual road deaths projected to more than double to 514,000 by 2030. Considering these statistics when managing business delivery fleets, removing any problem vehicles from circulation and ensuring that all processes are up-to-standard is important.

Simple safety upgrades such as off-road optimized tires, new seatbelts and automatic crash detection technology can greatly improve or even save drivers’ lives in remote parts of the globe.

Embrace public-private partnership

As history has shown us, collaboration is critical to solving many of life’s most significant challenges. If we hope to update our global transportation infrastructure, we must also be willing to embrace a comprehensive public-private sector effort to understand better – and act upon – the specific problems facing disparate communities worldwide. Take India, for example, where 50% of truck drivers are estimated to have compromised vision. Without working with local partners, it can be near-impossible for the private sector to understand and address these trends properly.

Maximizing the value of these collaborations requires considering public-private partnerships from both a macro and a micro scale. At a local level, that means working with agencies on the ground who can serve as your eyes and ears to the real problems in these regions. At a global level, public-private partnerships inspire action and bring much-needed attention to issues that have gone unnoticed for far too long.

Initiatives such as the UN Global Compact and the UN Road Safety Fund are calling on companies and government agencies alike to align on strategies that address deep-seated societal issues impacting human rights, the environment, labour and anti-corruption. Now is the time to bring road safety into this mix, sending an unequivocal message that the public and private sectors are united behind this urgent issue.

Our road system is more than a collection of streets and highways; it connects us as people, businesses and a global community. It is our responsibility to step up and take action to protect these systems, which keep our economy running and can prevent the tragic loss of life caused by road traffic crashes. We can make this vision a reality for generations by taking steps together.

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