Zenani, my only daughter, had just turned thirteen years old on the 9th June 2010. Consequently, her unfortunate and untimely passing was a tragedy shared by millions across the globe. In this very moment; the eyes of the world would turn to road safety and as a result, would recognize the horrific toll a road accident can really take.
On the same day of our dearest Zenani’s passing, three and a half thousand other families also lost a loved one in a road traffic crash. The next day the same and the next day, and the next… This is the reality of the global road death epidemic, a remorseless taking of life day after day, 25,000 every week, 100,000 every month.
Suddenly, cruelly, in an instant, road crashes can rob us of our loved ones, our friends and colleagues. But we know that the risk is far greater if you are young, if you are poor, if you are a pedestrian or a cyclist, if you live alongside the highways that others speed through. Children are particularly vulnerable. I was shocked to find out that 1000 children and teenagers are killed on the roads each and every day. Road crashes are already the number one killer of young people over the age of 10 around the world. And this crisis is getting worse. By 2015 road traffic injuries will be the leading health burden for children over five as well. This is why the United Nations Decade of Action for Road Safety is so important.
The world has united and decided that enough is enough. The international community – the one hundred governments which co-sponsored the UN resolution for the Decade of Action – has made road safety a new priority. The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon has spoken out, describing the scale of global road deaths as ‘totally unacceptable’.
But words, however strong, must be met with action. This UN Decade should not become just an empty slogan or a convenient piece of website branding. There is a Global Plan for the Decade which sets out a framework for road injury prevention around the world. We know exactly what is needed. It’s not rocket science, just safe crossings for schoolchildren, better enforcement of speed limits and drunk driving and the use of motorcycle helmets to name but a few simple measures.
The UN has a concrete goal: to stabilise and reduce global road deaths by 2020. But to achieve this goal will need bold action and strong leadership. It will need investment and innovation. For example, the Commission for Global Road Safety today calls for a $2 road safety contribution to be added to every new car sale. This would be a relatively small contribution from individual car buyers, but would make a huge difference in funding road safety improvements. All of us will need to play our part, by behaving safely on the road and by demanding safety from others. And protecting our children when they’re vulnerable in their second decade of life must be a lasting legacy of this Decade of Action.
Next month, on 11 May, the world will come together to formally launch the Decade of Action. On that day, the experts will tell us that we can save 5 million lives and prevent 50 million serious injuries if the UN’s plan is carried out. But the change must start with each and every one of us as well. We can begin simply by recognising that road deaths are preventable. They are a consequence of human neglect and can be prevented by human action. Other parents must not go through the pain that I am suffering and will continue to suffer. Now is the time for that positive action. Every life we save will be a precious victory.
Zoleka Mandela took part in the London launch of Make Roads Safe: Time for Action, a report by the Commission for Global Road Safety. Together with the Nelson Mandela Foundation the Mandela family are announcing the Zenani Mandela Scholarship for Road Safety, a Mandela Day initiative contributing to the UN Decade of Action.