Improve road safety: a priority for Mexico and Latin America

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin

By Rubén López Barrera, CEO of Aleatica in Mexico 

Mexico City, August 2021 – Competent and efficient exercise of civil engineering is key to solving societal problems and promoting people’s wellbeing. Projects need a solid technical foundation and economic, viability and impact assessments, considering indicators such as safety, health and inclusion. In the case of development and operation of high-performance highways, this means giving special priority to road safety. 

An accident or distraction by the driver is not the same when it happens on the city streets as when it occurs on a high-performance highway, where the consequences can be exacerbated in terms of monetary losses, lost time, and, sadly, the loss of human lives. 

It is important not to lose sight of the true scale of the challenge of preventing transit accidents. The Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study estimates that between 1.88 and 2.23 million people died of this cause in 2019, while 50 million were injured. The same source has reported that this year, traffic accidents were the seventh cause of death in Mexico, representing 2.86% of the total. 

The international community recognizes the relevance of the issue. Goal 3.6 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by the United Nations is to reduce deaths and injuries caused by traffic accidents by 50%. The period from 2021-2030 has been declared the Second Decade of Action for Road Safety, and the World Health Organization will spearhead the effort to create an action plan. In the coming months, an executive meeting will be held by the Steering Committee of this organization to mobilize political leadership and promote collaboration. 

Action must be taken at the national and local level to achieve this goal. It is clear that having quality highways is important. Road infrastructure must be developed and operated with a comprehensive safety approach, thinking about the entire useful life of the infrastructure and incorporating technological advances. Builders and operators must adopt high standards and apply international best practices for service, transparency, safety and sustainability, acting with a high level of responsibility. 

However, the quality of the roads is only one of the key factors for ensuring road safety. Equally important are the rules set by the authorities and how compliance with them is supervised, as well as the progress made on improving vehicle safety and the vehicle maintenance executed by the owner; as well as, of course, the ability of the driver and the culture of respect between drivers. 

Acknowledging that there are multiple factors at play does not minimize in any way the responsibility of each player involved. In fact, each player needs to do their utmost to implement a collective response, contributing their knowledge and insights. 

What should this effort entail? First, it is necessary to have a detailed diagnosis based on updated data. The best policies will always be the ones that are evidence-based. There should be transparency, for example, in the traffic flow figures, speed measurements, the number of accidents, expert assessments and health sector information. 

It is also very important to identify and communicate best practices at the regional and global level. One example is the “Vision Zero” initiative that Sweden has included in its legislative framework, the explicit goal of which is to have no deaths from accidents on the country’s roadways. The “Towards Zero” strategy in Australia and the way it is implemented in the different provinces is another notable case. 

A comparative analysis would make it possible to create more synergies and would assist with the adoption of novel approaches. There are lessons learned and frequent developments in diverse fields ranging from everything from the design of the roadways to the signage, rapid response, equipment and training. 

This collective space for reflection must also include civil society. Relevant information on the roadways, vehicles and responsible practices must be available and easily accessible to users. It is also important to consider all of the options available for encouraging people to act prudently, ensure compliance with the law and improve driver capability. These are all ongoing tasks. 

Some examples of success in Mexico are Circuito Exterior Mexiquense, Viaducto Bicentenario, among other projects and the benefits they deliver to customers, employees, contractors and communities. Safety is a transversal issue. 

These projects already reflect positive results in the reduction of fatal accidents, and I am confident that more and more projects will adopt these practices each day. We are constantly looking for new ways to continue contributing to this national and global agenda, and we must therefore explore the best ways to create a reliable, open and plural platform. 

It should not be treated as a purely academic effort. Success will depend on obtaining concrete results in high-performance roadways. We want those who have knowledge about the multi-faceted aspects of this matter to interact and make progress towards the agreed goals of the United Nations, or even the aspiration of having zero fatalities. 

We need to create coalitions and have them develop recommendations and campaigns. We want engineers, administrators, regulators, legislators, authorities, activists, educators, users and all stakeholder groups to join forces with this initiative. Adopting a comprehensive and multi-disciplinary approach will be the key to success.