Can we make transportation safe and sustainable? An interview with Motorsport chief Jean Todd – Global Issue

UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Road Safety Jean Todd sat down for an interview with UN News.

Although he was known as “Mr. Speed” during his career as a very successful rally co-driver in the 1960s and 1970s, Jean Todd focused his attention on reducing the number of annual deaths from road accidents, in his capacity as UN special envoy for road safety.

Mr. Todd has been well-commented on the changes to electric vehicles: As president of the Federation International de l’Automobile, (FIA, the motorsports governing body), he was instrumental in establishing the Formula E, a fully electric racing championship. Although he is a strong proponent of electric vehicles, Mr. Todd often advocates for the developing world, where any type of vehicle, electric or fossil-powered, is out of reach of many citizens, and where the vast majority of fatal road accidents occur.

Before the UN Sustainable Transport Conference held in Beijing and online between October 1 and October 1, UN News Mr. Talked to Todd.

The Road Safety Ambassador will be one of the keynote speakers at the event, which will focus on ways to reduce the negative environmental, social and health effects of transportation and improve access to safe and reliable mobility, especially for vulnerable groups.

The world's largest public bus system is starting to convert to electric buses in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Unsplash / Rangga Cahya Nugraha

The world’s largest public bus system is starting to convert to electric buses in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Transportation demand is expected to triple in the next 35 years: Is a sustainable transportation future really possible?

When it comes to transportation, there is a real disparity between the developed world and the developing world. It is interesting to hear about new technologies such as electric vehicles or autonomous vehicles, but many in the developing world do not have access to public transport.

One of the goals of Sustainable Development Goal 11 is to provide access to public transport to all citizens within 20 years and we are far behind that goal.

If we look at road safety, 1.3 million people die in road accidents every year and 922 percent of them are in the developing world.

So how can this be addressed, and how can we create a safer, more sustainable transportation future? I would say, although it is a matter of concern for everyone, the problem must be solved by the government in the end.

Their transportation must be given priority. I am French and in 1973, about 18,000 people were killed on the streets. Today, with three times as many vehicles, 3,000 have died. I think, on the street, the developing world is half a century behind the developed world.

People are waiting for a light change at a pedestrian crossing in San Francisco, USA.

Unsplash / Yoel J Gonzalez

People are waiting for a light change at a pedestrian crossing in San Francisco, USA.

If rich countries are converted to electric vehicles, are developing countries at risk of flooding with combustion engine care? What do you think this will mean for road safety and climate change?

We must work with the government, car manufacturers, motorbike companies to ensure that these countries have minimum quality vehicles.

And we know how to do it: it includes education, law enforcement, good quality infrastructure and good post-crash care.

In the case of climate change, “green energy” will be a game-changer. We don’t have to wait for electric cars to be launched all over the world, we can get into green fuel very quickly and that’s urgent.

You mentioned the UN’s goal of universal access to public transport by 2030. How can we achieve this?

This is not an easy question. This was an important goal, but the question is how we get there and it is difficult to see a clear roadmap for achieving those results. But the important thing is to deal with the situation, and to have ambition is essential.

We need to monitor the evolution of these goals, so I am very interested to see what happens at the UN Sustainable Transport Conference in China.

(This interview has been edited for clarity and length)

Improving Road Safety in Developing Countries: Q&A with UN Special Envoy for Road Safety Jean Todd

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