Global summit takes on critical challenge of improving road safety for kids
Yesterday, I attended a “Global Road Safety Summit” hosted by Safe Kids Worldwide. The crowd was full of policymakers and safety experts, but many of us were not thinking about the titles on our business cards. We were thinking about our more important title –parent.
One particular parent attending the summit was Zoleka Mandela, grand-daughter of the late Nelson Mandela. In June 2010, her 13-year-old daughter Zenani died in a crash on the way back from a concert that opened the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Since then, she has become a strong advocate, calling on the global community to help developing countries reduce road deaths. And we thank her for turning her grief into action.
Secretary Foxx with Zoleka Mandela; photo courtesy Safe Kids Worldwide.
Like Zoleka Mandela, I’m also a parent, and I love walking and bike riding with my son and daughter. I even like the routine of driving them to school. But several years ago, I learned how something routine can turn tragic.
Back when I was mayor of Charlotte, an accident occurred that left a deep impression on me: A mother was walking her child alongside a street that had no sidewalk. Eventually, they came to a spot where there wasn't even a place for them to pass because overgrown bushes were blocking their path. So they had to step off the side and onto the street.
In an instant, the child was struck and killed. A family was shattered, a community rocked.
Unfortunately, stories like that happen worldwide every day. In fact, around the globe, roadway crashes are the leading cause of death for children. In the 20 minutes it took me to deliver my speech yesterday, thirteen young people under the age of 25 died in cars or on the side of the road.
That's what compels Safe Kids Worldwide to host an event like the summit. It's why our National Highway Traffic Safety Administration promotes safer walking, biking, and driving. And why our Federal Highway Administration works to improve our roads and sidewalks.
Secretary Foxx with an idea for improving global road safety; photo courtesy Safe Kids Worldwide.
Now, there’s no one way to combat these crashes; each country is different. But there are some things that the US –and DOT in particular– are doing to prevent these tragedies.
For example, we know that safety requires more than just educating children to be careful when they’re walking and biking along the road. Infrastructure has a role to play, too. After all, as happened in Charlotte, there are still too many roads with no safe way to bike or walk.
That's why DOT is committed to closing gaps in pedestrian and bicycle networks where –even if people are following the rules– the risk of a crash is too high.
So we just completed pilot walking and bicycling assessments in three cities. We brought together all of our stakeholders; we identified gaps; and we found ways to fix them.
This experience will provide the rest of our field offices with a roadmap –because we’ll be leading one of these assessments in every single state in the U.S.
Walking or bicycling might not be everyone’s primary way to get around. But they are about the only way children get around whether they’re at play or heading somewhere without an adult who drives. And that’s even more true in other countries. So the Obama Administration supports the inclusion of “road safety” in the UN’s Post-2015 Development Agenda to draw more attention and resources to this critical issue.
As John F. Kennedy once said, “Our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this planet. We all breathe the same air. And we all cherish our children's future.”
He was right. And it’s up to us to make that future as safe as possible.