Formula One and global road safety, er, sounds familiar

August 7, 2007 at 9:26 pm | Posted in Climate change, Environment, Environmental protection, FIA, Road safety, Sustainable mobility | 1 Comment

Formula One, motorist organizations and car makers have manoeuvred themselves into pole position in global road safety politics.

The FIA, the governing body of motor sport, has established a Commission for Global Road Safety that aims to set the policy agenda for road safety in poor countries.1 Formula One’s ability to access and influence leading political figures has undoubtedly raised the profile of road traffic crashes as a global public health crisis, but the policies it promotes are neither the most effective in preventing injury, nor the most environmentally sustainable.

World-wide, road traffic crashes kill about 1.2 million people each year and injure over 50 million.2 Most of the injuries are in poor countries and most of the victims are pedestrians and cyclists—and the carnage continues to grow. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), road deaths in poor countries will rise by over 80% by 2020. The cost of traffic injuries in low and middle income countries is already estimated at $65 billion, more than the total amount they receive in development aid.2 The Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile, better known as the FIA, is the governing body of motor sport.3 It was set up in 1904 and represents the interests of motoring organizations and car users worldwide. In 2001, it established the FIA Foundation, a charity with the stated aim of ‘promoting road safety, environmental protection and sustainable mobility.’ Last year, the FIA set up a Commission for Global Road Safety with a remit to ‘examine the framework for and level of international cooperation on global road safety and to make policy recommendations.’ The Commission is chaired by former UK Defence Secretary, Lord Robertson, and at its inception had eight commissioners, one from each of the G8 group of wealthy nations.

Read more in Essays, Formula One and global road safety
by Ian Roberts, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, University of London

Here are a few paragraphs that jumped out at me:

Writing in the Guardian for UN Road Safety Week, Schumacher expressed his delight at being part of the ‘independent’ Commission for Global Road Safety and his optimism for improving road safety in poor countries.4 ‘In my racing career, I survived some very high speed impacts. I am still alive because the sport’s governing body designed a system where safety is a prime consideration.’ Schumacher failed to point out a key difference between the grand prix circuit and roads in poor countries—there are no pedestrians, cyclists or children on the track in motor sport.

Pedestrians, cyclists and children are the ones at greatest risk of traffic-related injury. In California, cyclists at least wear helmets, but in Britain cycling helmets are not required, and I know headmasters who worry about the lads cycling to school every day—it is only a matter of time before another serious head or neck injury presents itself.

Meanwhile, children get into trouble with school because they are late. So, parents drive them there. If students were given gold stars for walking to school instead of being chauffeured, families would be more likely to take the extra time to walk or cycle if they live within a reasonable distance of school. We do.

In the past couple of months I read a survey somewhere that indicated the reason children stay at home so much is because the streets are not safe enough for parents to let them out unattended. The reason? There are too many cars on the roads! (Meanwhile, obesity is on the increase in the UK amongst the under-ten-year-olds! I guess the same is true in the States too?)

So, here we are on the one hand, hoping walking and cycling will catch on as modes of transport, for health and fitness and climate change reasons. With the other hand, we have taken away the incentives, habits and safeguards that make those hopes halfway reasonable.

Reading on to the grand finale of this essay, published by the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine (JRSM) and available here in its Full Text (PDF)

The FIA has succeeded in raising the profile of road traffic injuries as a global public health problem at the highest political levels. It has also confronted the development banks with the human cost of road building programmes. But there is a downside to putting the car makers and motorist organizations in the driving seat of road safety policy.

Injury is just one of many public health problems arising from increasing motor vehicle use. Transport is 95% oil dependent and accounts for 14% of the greenhouse gas emissions that now threaten the sustainability of the planet. A low-carbon, low-energy transportation system with increased levels of walking and cycling and much less car travel is vital in order to avoid catastrophic climate change.11 This would also tackle road danger at source.

Urban air pollution, much of which is transport related, causes upwards of 750,000 deaths per year. Reductions in the volume and speed of traffic, particularly in cities, could mitigate climate impacts, reduce injury rates and improve air quality. Less traffic would help to raise physical activity levels, thus reducing rates of obesity and diabetes. Reclaiming the streets for walking and cycling is the future of sustainable transport—but this will not be in the interests of the car lobby.11

Formula One has a chequered history in public health. In the nineties, it supported the interests of the tobacco industry when it successfully lobbied the UK Government into scrapping its plans to ban tobacco sponsorship in motor sport.12 Big tobacco relished its links with Formula One because of its appeal to teenagers. Getting young people hooked was and still is good for profits, even though smoking will kill one in two of those who maintain the habit. Are we to believe that Formula One has now become a force for good in public health? Surely it is time to establish a truly independent Commission for Global Road Safety that will put the daily toll of 3,000 road deaths before any commercial concerns.

The above essay is dismaying, when you add in the anti-environmental factors that feature in the Association of British Drivers’ interests, as listed in their META keywords:

<META NAME="description" CONTENT="The Association of British Drivers. Campaigning on behalf of Britain's beleagured drivers, the ABD is the leading lobby group fighting anti-car measures in the UK.">

<META NAME="keywords" CONTENT="abd, british drivers association, british association of drivers, club, lobby, campaign, motorists association, united kingdom, great britain, england, scotland, wales, northern ireland, UK, driving, motoring, motor cars, automobiles, motorcycles, motorbikes, roads, road safety, fuel tax, road tax, ved, motorways, bypass, speed cameras, gatso, radar trap, accidents, speed kills, traffic calming, speed humps, bus lanes, workplace parking charges, road tolls, congestion charging, integrated transport policy, public transport, trains, buses, health, environment, pollution, emissions, carbon dioxide, particulates, global warming, climate change">

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  1. The idea of gold stars for walking to school is brilliant – the sort of small but significant attitude-changer that could make a big difference. Might have to be adjusted to give those who live further away enough incentive, though.

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