The U.S. has refused to sign up to a new declaration on road safety. The so-called Stockholm Declaration was issued at the Third Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety held in Stockholm, Sweden, February 19–20.
Out of more than 140 attending nations the U.S was the only one that issued a dissenting statement.
In its opposition to the Stockholm Declaration the U.S. delegation cited climate change, sustainability, and other factors as reasons not to sign up.
In 2017, the U.S. refused to be part of the Paris climate agreement, the only nation not to sign up. At the time, the U.S. decision—made by President Donald Trump—was decried by American media outlets as evidence that the U.S was “officially the world’s climate pariah.”
Because of the latest dissent it’s likely that road safety professionals will say the U.S. is a “road-death reduction pariah.” Pedestrian organizations, including the leading American one, have already expressed disappointment at the U.S. decision to dissent.
A "Ghost Bike", which are used to signify a fatality involving a bicycle, is viewed along a busy street in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
GLOBALLY, MORE THAN 1.3 million people per year are killed in road crashes, with a further 50 million people seriously injured. Such crashes are the leading cause of death for children and young adults aged 5–29 years.
The Third Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety was co-sponsored by the World Health Organization (WHO). It was attended by 1,700 delegates, including royalty, ministers of transport, health and interior from Member States, and senior officials from UN agencies.
The Stockholm Declaration calls for a new global target for reducing road deaths by 2030. The declaration went through extensive consultation with WHO Member States through their permanent representations in Geneva, and there was also a public consultation open to everybody around the world.
Delegates at the Third Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety that was staged in Stockholm, Sweden, February 19–20 2020.
Building on the Moscow Declaration of 2009 and the Brasilia Declaration of 2015—as well as UN General Assembly and World Health Assembly resolutions—the newest declaration seeks to reduce road deaths and injuries through a variety of measures, including low-speed zones and technological solutions.
The King of Sweden, Carl XVI Gustaf, said the conference hosted in his country represented an “opportunity to link the road safety challenge to other sustainability challenges, such as climate change, health, equality, poverty and human rights.”
Among the key conference resolutions was the call to rein back speed on the world’s roads. The Stockholm Declaration wants countries to “focus on speed management,” with increased enforcement of existing speed limits and “mandate a maximum road travel speed of 30 kph (18.6 mph) in areas where vulnerable road users and [motor] vehicles mix.”
The declaration noted that speed reductions would result in improvements in air quality and could therefore help countries tackle climate change.
The U.S. objected to several parts of the otherwise globally-agreed declaration.
“While the United States supports many of the objectives outlined in the declaration, we find it necessary to dissociate ourselves from certain paragraphs,” said the U.S. dissenting statement, claiming that the offending paragraphs “muddle our focus and detract attention from data-driven scientific policies and programs that have successfully reduced fatalities on roadways.”
U.S. pedestrian fatalities, 1990—2018.
GOVERNORS HIGHWAY SAFETY ASSOCIATION
WITH 6,227 FATALITIES, 2018 was the worst year for pedestrian deaths in the U.S. since 1990. In February 2019, the U.S. Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) reported that the number of pedestrian deaths involving sport utility vehicles (SUVs) increased by 50% from 2013 through 2017, while the number of pedestrian deaths attributed to motorists driving smaller cars increased by 30% over that same period.
The U.S. delegation at the Third Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety objected to a declaration that wants to shift “toward safer, cleaner, more energy-efficient and affordable modes of transport and promote higher levels of physical activity such as walking and cycling as well as integrating these modes with the use of public transport to achieve sustainability.”
Also, the U.S. dissociated from a declaration that aims to focus attention on the “safety needs of those road users who are the most vulnerable including pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists, and users of public transport.”
A statement from the U.S. delegation said it “dissociates itself from references [to] climate change, gender equality, reduced inequalities, responsible consumption and production” claiming that these issues are “not directly related to road safety.”
Additionally, the dissenting document dissociates the U.S. from “UN legal instruments that are regional in nature, and we are not a party to, as well as technical standards and regulations that may be inconsistent with WTO agreements.”
Elsewhere in the statement, the U.S. delegation recognized that “traffic crashes are not only a transportation challenge for our nation but also a grave public health problem and a significant economic issue.”
The annual economic cost of motor vehicle crashes in the U.S. is estimated at over $240 billion.
According to the U.S. statement, the U.S. is “focused on improving road safety, especially for pedestrians and bicyclists through infrastructure design.”
Further, it claims America is “on the verge of one of the most exciting and important innovations in transportation history— the development of Automated Driving Systems.”
These driverless vehicles “can lead to a future in which vehicles increasingly help drivers avoid crashes,” continued the U.S. statement, leading to a “future in which highway fatalities and injuries are significantly reduced.”
Reacting to the U.S. dissent, Heidi Simon, deputy director of America Walks, a coalition of national, state and local groups which advocate on pedestrian issues, said she was “disappointed to see the U.S. choose to not endorse the Stockholm Declaration on Road Safety, but not surprised.”
She added that “communities across the U.S. work tirelessly to make changes to create safer streets for people who walk and bike” but that “leadership has too often failed to adequately address the over 6,000 lives lost on our streets each year while walking.”
According to Simon, the current U.S. administration lacks the “courage and political will” to address what she calls an “epidemic” of deaths caused by car-centric street design.
Mário Alves, the Portugal-based secretary general of the International Federation of Pedestrians, also expressed disappointment.
“The U.S. has the highest per capita road fatality rate of any OECD country,” he said.
“Despite their rejection of the declaration, we hope that the United States will take aggressive new steps to reduce their traffic death rate, especially for pedestrians, to that currently achieved by the best OECD countries.”
The 1.3 million lives lost every year due to road crashes was “an outrage,” said WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.“
It is an unacceptable price to pay for mobility,” he stated.
Etienne Krug, director at WHO’s Department of Social Determinants of Health, said that if motorized road transport did not yet exist “no sane government would permit it.”
He said that the Stockholm Declaration could enable the world to “move quickly towards a safe, healthy, and clean transport system for everyone.”
However, the dissent from the U.S. could slow this progress, claimed Vancouver-based city planner Brent Toderian:
“The U.S. delegation using its stubborn car-only doctrine, and radical ideology of climate emergency denial as excuses to stand in the way of real traffic death solutions is sadly just par for the course for the Trump Administration.”
Further linking the U.S. dissent on road crashes to that on climate change, Toderian added:
“As with other important issues needing global leadership and partnership, the rest of the world must proceed without hesitation, with or without America.”
Updated on February 23 with comments from America Walks, WHO, Brent Toderian and the International Federation of Pedestrians.