H.E. Mr. Toshiro Ozawa
Ambassador of Japan to the United Nations
On Agenda Item 160, "Global Road Safety Crisis"
14 April 2004
Traffic fatalities and injuries are serious problems in all of our countries. As the World Report on Road Traffic Injury Prevention was just released by WHO last Wednesday, it is an opportune time for us to take up road safety issues here in the General Assembly and consider the role that the United Nations can play in promoting traffic safety in Member States.
To be effective, action on road safety must reflect the different situations of traffic, rules and regulations, and practices that prevail in each country. Usually, national governments have the best knowledge of these matters, and thus, it is they who should assume the primary responsibility for preventing road injuries, working in close cooperation with municipal and provincial authorities. The United Nations can assist these efforts of Member States by promoting and facilitating cooperation among them, notably through facilitating the exchange of information about "best practices." Each of us can learn from the others' experience, both success stories and mistakes.
The information that is exchanged, by nature, is quite technical. Today, the expertise on such matters resides in the regional economic commissions. Attempts to strengthen the exchange of information should therefore draw upon their expertise and avoid duplicating the work that the regional economic commissions have already carried out. Japan believes that this principle should be respected when the World Health Organization assumes its role as a coordinator of road safety activities.
I would like to mention some of the experiences of Japan. The number of traffic fatalities in my country hit a peak in 1970 with 16,765 victims. In response to the pressing need to take appropriate measures on this huge social problem, the Basic Law of Road Safety was enacted the same year and five-year plans have been implemented since then. In 2002, the number of fatalities fell to 8,326, about half of the 1970 level. Also, Japan is improving safety standards for motor vehicles taking into account the world-wide harmonization of technical regulations, and also promoting the development and wider use of Advanced Safety Vehicles that utilize information technology.
From 1996 to 2003, national authorities implemented emergency measures to reduce traffic injuries, focusing on locations with a high incidence of accidents. The first step was to identify 3,196 such locations, using the data on accidents and traffic compiled respectively by the National Police Agency and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport. The authorities on road management and the Public Safety Commission then carried out joint spot checks and detailed analyses of the causes of those accidents and implemented integrated and systematic measures such as improvement of intersections and traffic signals. These measures have had the effect of reducing traffic injuries by 30 percent at those locations.
This latter experience has taught us many lessons. First, a collaborative approach by the government agencies concerned is indispensable. Second, accurate data are a prerequisite for any effective plan of action. And third, each action has to be evaluated so that there will be a continuing process of improving policy.
While the primary responsibility for road safety lies with national governments, it is true that developing countries often have limited capacities to address this issue. Japan is aware of this problem, and we try to assist those countries which have the political will but lack sufficient resources to act on their resolve. For example, the Government of Japan contributed approximately US $9 million to Nepal to improve the condition of ten intersections in Katmandu in 2001. This project included the paving of roads, erecting fences to prevent pedestrians from crossing roads, and installing traffic signals for both drivers and pedestrians. In addition, the behavioral aspects of people with regard to road safety were addressed, through preparation of posters for road safety and textbooks for traffic rules and through educational and training programs.
There are a variety of actors who have a role to play in promoting road safety. We need to bear in mind the responsibilities of each of them. The United Nations is also an actor, but we should consider what real added value it can and will offer. With concerted efforts by all concerned, I believe that we can tackle the huge challenge of road safety efficiently and effectively.
Thank you, Mr. President.