smart cities

“The towns of the future must be safe and sustainable”

Matthew Baldwin, chair of the United Nations Road Safety Fund's Advisory Board, believes urban space can be transformed

Home Life Sustainability smart cities “The towns of the future must be safe and sustainable”

Road safety is a fundamental issue for sustainable development. In April 2018, the United Nations launched the United Nations Road Safety Fund (UNRSF), an institution which aims to set in train various programmes for road safety, particularly in lower income countries.

In May 2021, the Fund took part in  the sixth edition of the UN Global Road Safety Week, an opportunity for all the various stakeholders for safe and sustainable mobility (including Pirelli, which provides finance for the Fund) to get together to determine the forthcoming challenges at a global level.  This year's chosen theme was safe speed, and promoting #StreetsForLife and 30 km/h speed limits wherever vulnerable road users and motorised transport mix…

Matthew Baldwin, chair of the UNRSF's Advisory Board, says the week's activities went well even though they had to be organised entirely online. “The response has been tremendous and we have been able to reach large numbers of people thanks to social media.”

Baldwin has been focused on road safety since 1985, when he first worked to advise the UK parliament on issues such as compulsory front seat-belt legislation. He became the European Commission's deputy director-general for mobility and transport in 2016 and was appointed European coordinator for road safety and related aspects of sustainable mobility in 2018.

He talked to us about the challenges ahead.

The sixth UN Global Road Safety Week has just taken place – how did it go?

“Until recently, road safety was perceived as only a subject rich countries we received a significant participation from inhabitants of the Global South, where the fatalities from road crashes are sadly much more significant.”

The focus of the week was on the reduction of urban speed limits to 30km/h. Why is it so important, in terms of safety and the environment, to reduce speed limits?

Baldwin stressed that these issues in the European Union are for Member States and often towns and cities to decide – the EU does not have the legal competence. But it was striking how many countries and cities were taking this action.

First of all, they are doing it to reduce mortality on the roads. A pedestrian or cyclist hit by a car travelling at 30km/h has a 90 per cent chance of survival. If the car is travelling at 60km/h, this probability is reduced to 30 per cent. In the European Union, 70 per cent of people killed in road crashes are pedestrians, cyclists or motorcyclists; it is the most vulnerable who die. While over the years we have been able to make it safer for people travelling inside a car, the same cannot yet be said for those on the outside.

From an environmental perspective, on the other hand, travelling at a maximum of 30km/h in towns would also allow a reduction in emissions, because travelling at 50 km/h, in urban traffic, you get continual sudden accelerations and braking. It also has  the potential to  improve traffic flows. We need to make progress from both points of view, given that very often one helps the other.

You are the European coordinator for road safety and sustainable mobility. How do you see these two areas and what needs to be done about them?

It is important to bring together the two areas and expand the question of road safety to the whole community, because road safety has implications in many areas, from gender discrimination to sustainability. Ours is a holistic approach: we need to look at  all the elements of a fatal road crash (whether it relates to vehicles, infrastructure, speed or a combination of these factors) and improve how each component functions.  Yes,  very often crashes happen through the fault of the drivers, but the Safe System shows us that crashes  do not necessarily have to kill or main people.  I want to live in a world in which children can run around in the streets without dying as a result. For this, and in order to achieve our objective of halving road deaths by 2030 on a global level, we need to deliver on a new Global Road Safety Plan, effectively an alliance between governments, the civil society and yes the private sector too.

How can institutions, organisations and, above all, companies help?

It is not true, as some people say, that governments are the only people responsible. We are delighted that private-sector enterprises such as Pirelli are active in the matter. We must all have the same mission and major companies need to step up, because they have the wherewithal to make their voices heard.

What is the contribution being made by the United Nations Road Safety Fund?

This is a recent fund and it is young, still learning the ropes, but for me it is really exciting to be involved [as chairman of the Advisory Board]. For the moment, we are financing 15 projects in medium- and low-income countries, where the largest number of fatal crashes occur.

How do you picture the world's mobility, towns and roads in 10 years' time?

There will certainly be changes; already with the pandemic we have seen major transformations in the use of urban space. We need to reduce our dependence on private vehicles powered by the combustion of fossil fuels by encouraging active mobility, that of pedestrians and cyclists, and public transport. Cars, certainly, will continue to be important, especially outside towns, and for that we need to develop electric or hydrogen-powered vehicles, in order to attain climate neutrality. The towns and roads of the future must be safe and sustainable, and the two things always move forward at the same pace.

How can technology help us to reduce deaths and injuries on the roads?

In many different ways.  New technology can help, but we should also use the solutions that already exist. For example, the EU  has decided  that all new vehicles will need to be equipped with Intelligent Speed Assistance and Automated Emergency Braking by 2024.