Safety is a Human Right

Road safety is a human rights issue. It is time we start to treat it as such.

We asked a human rights activist to share her perspectives with us about how road safety community can improve its campaigning and advocacy to raise the profile of this tragic issue and have a stronger impact.

Phillipa Tucker, Director of Research, Development and Resourcing at Accountability International, assisted the Alliance with the development, analysis, and reporting of the People’s Survey. Phillipa specializes in conceptualizing new ways to work in the gaps and innovate the way work is done by activists, development partners and other stakeholders. Her perspectives offer some valuable insight for our community. 

When we asked Phillipa what she found through her work on the People’s Survey, she said, “Before working on this survey, I knew road crashes were the largest killer of youth in Africa. As I learned more, I was surprised by the level of violence and how much it’s affecting people. It is much bigger than I expected it to be. 17% of respondents reported losing a direct family member (parent, sibling, child), 86.6% knew someone who had died as the result of a traffic crash, and 95% of people knew someone who had been injured. These are shockingly large statistics, and I don’t think it can be said for any other human rights or public health issue. Being able to demonstrate the knock-on effects of road crashes is important in presenting it as a human rights issue.”

She continued to say, “It is a human right not to live in a state of fear that something bad will happen whilst walking down the street or driving a car. It is a human right not to be killed or injured, or lose a family member, as the result of an avoidable tragedy.”

Scream Louder and Punch Harder

“I think there is something in the language that the road safety movement uses. It is too polite. The most successful movements in the world are not polite. They are the ones who come out kicking and screaming. There is a need for the movement to start screaming a lot louder and being a lot less polite, because nobody is listening and nobody is really taking it seriously. This is an issue that’s been on the cards for 18+ years and the statistics are getting worse in some places. You need to punch a lot harder. Stop being so nice about it.”

Appeal to Youth and Influencers

“I believe it is important to target youth. There is a lack of engagement in road safety through education systems. If you teach children about road safety, the impact is immediate. Our research shows that youth are not as worried about road safety as other age groups. This could be because the vast majority of people who do not know someone that has died as the result of a road crash are under 18 years of age.”

“Think about who you have as your spokespeople, fighting for your cause. The right influencers add edge to your movement and help people see it as a human issue.”

“Behavior change takes a number of interventions, not just one. If people are hit by the same message repeatedly, coming from different sources (for example teachers, media, politicians, famous people, etc.), they are more likely to believe it.”

Think About the Socioeconomic Impacts

“I come at things with a socioeconomic lens. Regardless of the issue I’m dealing with, in my area of work, no matter where you are born in the world, if you have money you can usually buy your way out of violence. This is obviously a little bit more difficult if you are a minority, however money protects people from the most severe consequences of violence, while those who are marginalized suffer the worst impacts. This is not the case with road safety. No matter who you are, you are at risk. I believe it is important for the road safety community to look at the socioeconomic impacts of road crashes and how this is undermining the work that needs to be done.”

“Road safety is a different kind of violence. There is a silence that surrounds it and it is almost condoned by governments, companies, and societies. For example, people are allowed or even forced to use roads that are not infrastructurally safe. This is not acceptable.”

Know Your Advantages

“Those working in government are usually reluctant to take responsibility for road safety because it ‘falls between chairs’, such as infrastructure, health, education, police, etc. I think we need to understand that as a positive thing, rather than a weak point, because there are more people who have a mandate to respond to these issues. If you don’t get traction through one department, you can go to another. This is often not the case with many other issues, and gives those working within the road safety community more opportunities to push the agenda.”

“Obviously you have issues like drink driving, speeding, and the irresponsible use of phones, however the vast majority of road crashes are the result of issues that can be resolved or avoided, such as education, policing, and infrastructure. Most people who are killed in road crashes are innocent victims, doing nothing wrong. That is quite unique to road safety. With many human rights issues, there is a lot of blaming around victims and it is difficult to overcome that kind of stigma. When fighting for most human rights issues, you have to deal with a lot of stigmas and discrimination, and you have to deal with a lot of resistance. You also have to deal with the fact that there is usually little or no knowledge about how to solve the problem. These are not barriers in the road safety movement. Nobody is ‘against’ road safety. The road safety has an advantage here”

“We won’t see needle move in any dramatic way except in countries who are already doing good things. How many people are going to be killed while the Low-Income Countries struggle to catch up? Once you know what works in a particular context, you have to experiment with that in other contexts to find what works. Governments can no longer say that they don’t know what to do or what works, so there are no excuses. That is a very powerful position for this movement to be in.”

Accountability International is an African-led civil society organization that works to improve accountability for the lives of the most marginalized communities. They conduct research and advocacy to hold various leaders accountable, provide technical advice, work to enhance the capacity of other civil society actors, and lead projects to improve the lives, wellbeing, and human rights of all persons, across all spheres of society.