Source: Vientiane Times
It is a tragic paradox that at the very moment we are feeling the most relaxed, optimistic, and celebrating our lives, we are also often most exposed to death or serious injury through a road crash.
I am referring to those instants when we let down our guard, drink and drive, or simply fail to pay attention to the rules of the road as vigilantly as we should, feeling a false sense of security due to our altered state. This is above all true during periods of festivity, as in Laos with the celebration of Buddhist Lent, and at this time of year, Pi Mai.
Perhaps it is part of the human psyche that people act less responsibly during such times as they feel invincible in their moments of holiday consciousness. The statistics prove this. Drunk driving, which peaks during the holidays, was the main cause of road accidents in Laos in 2022, followed by speeding, and sudden changes of direction.
This is why I was delighted to learn of a grassroots awareness campaign during this holiday season to make road users more vigilant and exercise greater precautions than usual following the rules of the road.
I am referring to the social media campaign titled “Drive Safely – Follow the Rules,” which is running from mid-March to mid-April and features informative posts about road rules, quizzes, infographics, and videos, and is run by the Facebook pages of Laopost, Muan.la, Lao Youth Radio, Tholakhong, and Pakaad.
As the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Road Safety since 2015, I have learned that no matter what methods we develop to reduce the number of annual road crash deaths (the horrible sum globally is 1.3 million fatalities each year), the same tried and tested methods that the campaign is highlighting remain among the most effective personal actions.
These are – drive with a licence, obey traffic lights, follow road signs, wear seatbelts, wear helmets, do not text and drive, do not drink and drive, do not speed and so on. Only 64 percent of motorcycle riders in Laos wear a helmet, a simple and important measure that can prevent fatalities and serious injuries in the event of an accident.
Laos is among the worst countries in the world for road crash fatalities and injuries. In 2022 the country recorded 6,440 road accidents, in which 1,333 people were seriously injured and 947 died. Think about it – that is an average of 2.6 deaths every single day of the year due to traffic crashes.
Of course, there is some good news. Laos has a road fatality rate of 18 road deaths per 100,000 people, ranking it among the top 10 lowest-performing countries out of the 23 South East Asian countries. Singapore, the Maldives, and Japan are ranked in the top three. In comparison, Laos’ rate is still almost twice the average in European countries, which is 9.3 deaths per 100,000 people.
While the first thing that comes to mind is the tragic cost in human lives, another angle is the economic cost – in 2022 the cost to the economy was more than 103 billion kip. Put another way, according to the World Bank (WB 2016), the cost of road crashes represents 5.4 percent of the Gross Domestic Product in Laos.
We are now in the second Decade of Action for Road Safety. I have grown more and more aware of how important it is for countries and other stakeholders to work together to achieve our goal – of reducing by half the 1.3 million annual road crash fatalities by 2030. Together we can get closer to our goals:
– By working together to build an ecosystem of safe vehicles, safe roads, strong laws, and effective post-crash care
– By using available international instruments and conventions on road safety to guide national policies and
– By creating and working with champions of road safety to spread awareness throughout the country.
Noting above that road safety is an issue of concern in the region, Laos could lead by example on measures taken to raise awareness and efforts in road safety as it takes over the ASEAN chairmanship next year.
During this Lao New Year period, think first of your family and their safety – some 80 percent of the victims in Laos are young people – and remember that celebration is a time to express joy, not create tragedy.
About the author: Jean Todt is the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Road Safety. He visits Laos this week to promote road safety in the country.