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Former Ferrari Racing Chief Helps UN Launch Global Road Safety Campaign

by | July 8, 2024

He spent years as a major force behind one of the world’s most dangerous sports – auto racing. Now, Jean Todt has taken a lead role in a new United Nations effort to address the “pandemic” of highway deaths. Its new, ad campaign hopes to halve the number of road fatalities – over 1 million annually – by 2030.

Schumacher - Todt

Former Ferrari driver Michael Schumacher with then-Ferrari race team chief Michael Todt.

Jean Todt is well aware of the dangers of driving – having started out as a rally driver and eventually becoming the head of the vaunted Ferrari Formula 1 racing team. Today, he is working with the United Nations as its special envoy for road safety.

Last year, an estimated 1.3 million people died in motor vehicle crashes around the world – including around 41,000 in the U.S. That’s something Todt refers to as a “pandemic.” In his new role, the Frenchman hopes to bring the numbers crashing down, if you will, with a goal of halving roadway fatalities by 2030.

Under Todt, the U.N. has launched a new, two-year advertising campaign that will run in more than 80 countries and 1,000 cities around the world. In the United States, that includes New York City, Chicago and Boston.

“A silent pandemic”

“We need to work together with the government, together with the private sector, to kind of wake up to what I call a silent pandemic,” Todt said.

rollover crash

The U.N. campaign will target motorists in 80 countries and 1,000 cities.

Though U.S. highway deaths did come down slightly last year, they are still well ahead of where they were pre-COVID, according to data collected by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

In many other parts of the world, however, highway fatalities are on the rise. Official figures suggest 1.3 million people were killed in crashes last year – a figure including pedestrians and bicyclists, as well as vehicle drivers and passengers. If anything, the numbers may be low. China among the countries where analysts believe many crash fatalities go unreported.

By the numbers

Traffic accidents are now the leading killer of children and teens worldwide. One in four fatalities involve cyclists and pedestrians.

Jean Todt - UN v2a

Highway fatalities have become a “pandemic,” said Todt.

About nine in 10 fatalities occur in low and middle-income countries.

“Unfortunately,” said Todt, “ a lot of countries mainly in Africa, and in some countries in Asia, in Latin America, the figures are worsening.”

About 50 million people are injured annually in motor vehicle crashes.

More auto safety news

UN Highway Safety Billboard

One of the new U.N. highway safety billboards.

U.N. declares “Decade of Action”

The new U.N. campaign is part of the organization’s Decade of Action for Road Safety, which was launched in 2021.

The new ad campaign will run for two years and will address a variety of issues such as speeding, distracted driving and drunk and drugged driving. It will put an emphasis on basic measures drivers, passengers and others can improve their safety, including wearing helmets and using seatbelts.

It aims to reduce highway fatalities by 50% by 2030.

“Poor infrastructure”

Pedestrian Crash

Fatal pedestrian crashes have risen faster than overall highway fatalities. (Image courtesy: Stracci Law Group)

While drivers, motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians all can take steps to reduce risk, the U.N. program also is pressing government leaders to take action. In most countries, the U.N. has said, highway safety programs, including improved road designs, are underfunded.

“Road fatalities are closely linked to poor infrastructure, unplanned urbanization, lax social protection and health care systems, limited road safety literacy, and persistent inequalities both within and between countries,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Gutteres said two years ago. “At the same time, unsafe roads are a key obstacle to development.”

The potential for saving lives has been demonstrated in New York City which launched its own “Vision Zero” program a decade ago. It has redesigned intersections with high crash statistics, installed bike lanes and speed cameras and taken a number of steps which have been credited for a 12% reduction in overall road fatalities between 2013 and 2023. Pedestrian fatalities fell 45% during that period, even as they rose nationwide.

“More funding can and must be channeled towards road safety solutions to stop the senseless loss of lives still occurring on our roads each and every day,” Todt said during a 2022 safety conference.

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