Boubacar walks to work in Senegal
An interview with HI's road safety specialist

Safe and inclusive mobility

Ahead of the United Nation's annual High-Level Political forum on Sustainable Development, HI released a new study, “Making cities inclusive: safe mobility for persons with disabilities in developing countries,” which highlights the impacts of unsafe roads and inaccessible urban mobility infrastructure and how it affects people with disabilities. Eric Remacle, HI's road safety specialist does a deep dive on the topic.

A challenge for sustainable development

Each year, between 20 and 50 million people worldwide sustain non-fatal injuries in road crashes and 1.25 million are killed, according to the World Health Organization. More than 90% of these deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries. These statistics alone highlight the magnitude of the global challenge we face. A challenge intensified by the steady growth of urban population and the significant increase in private vehicle use in most developing countries. And all it implies in terms of unsafe roads, congestion of streets and health hazards tied to poor air quality in urban areas.

Beyond the human cost in lives lost and injuries, the economic and social cost of unsafe roads is also extremely high–up to 5% of GDP in many developing countries. Indeed, road crashes cut into the productive workforce, as most victims are ages 15 to 44, and add a considerable burden on already under-resourced health and social protection systems in developing countries.

Tackling the barriers

Unsafe roads kill and injure, but they are also a major factor of social exclusion, especially for road users with specific needs. As emphasized in the study, when people feel unsafe to use the roads, they cannot access education, employment, infrastructure, and services.

Vulnerable users, including pedestrians, people with disabilities, older people, cyclists, and children, are at higher risk of sustaining injuries from road crashes as they represent 46% of road casualties. For people with disabilities, approximately 15% of the world’s population, using the road can be difficult or nearly impossible. Their needs as road users, differing across a wide spectrum of impairments, are rarely taken into account and remain largely unspoken for.

As a result, they experience many barriers such as unsafe roads and pedestrian infrastructure such as inadequate sidewalks and unsafe crossing points, etc. They also face more insidious attitudinal barriers. Self-censure prevents many of those living with disabilities from leaving their homes, out of fear but also due to family pressure, prejudice, and stigma.

Safe and inclusive mobility

We define “safe mobility” as the ability for a person to safely and reliably access preferred destination by navigating an environment considerate of his or her needs and preferences. Therefore, we look at the whole mobility chain, i.e. the entirety of a person’s journey, for example going from one person's home to the bus stop, boarding the bus, traveling to the desired stop and eventually, the intended destination. If just one link in the chain is inaccessible or unsafe, mobility becomes a much greater challenge.

Safe and inclusive mobility can have a domino effect towards enhancing an inclusive society that leaves no one behind. States and local authorities must not fail to address the needs of persons with disabilities to enjoy their right to the city.

Safety + accessibility = mobility

Without road safety for all, cities are not inclusive and accessible, and vice versa. It is therefore crucial to link accessibility and safety in order to improve mobility for all in the city. Indeed, when performing a safety audit, you realise that most of the points of attention and subsequent recommendations are similar to those of an accessibility audit.

For example, during assessments carried out by HI in Cambodia and Vietnam, and during focus group discussions with persons with disabilities and their representative organizations in Laos, Nepal, Burkina Faso, Kenya, and the DRC, we found that people with disabilities usually struggle to get to their local stop and onto buses, particularly with wheelchairs. Where on-board spaces for wheelchairs or those with other impairments are provided, public awareness and understanding is often a barrier to their proper use. Those who need to remain in their wheelchairs during bus rides are exposed to high risks.

These considerable safety and accessibility challenges often turn people with disabilities away from public transport. Eventually, it contributes to denying them the possibility to enjoy the city and hampers the realization of their rights, especially for the poorest who cannot afford private transport means.

Policy frameworks

Mobility is addressed in core international human rights instruments and development frameworks. Indeed, Article 9 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities requires countries to identify and eliminate obstacles and barriers and ensure that people with disabilities can access their environment, transportation, public facilities and services, as well as information and communications technologies.

Member States of the UN have highlighted road safety as a major concern by adopting the to reduce by half the number of road traffic death and injuries by 2020 (SDG 3.6) and by proclaiming in 2011 a Decade of Action for Road Safety. Through SDG 11.2, they also committed to provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, notably by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of women, children, persons with disabilities and older persons.

The New Urban Agenda builds on the SDG 11. It explicitly addresses mobility, persons with disabilities and older persons, calling for improved policies on mobility systems that are safe, sustainable and promote diversity in society.

HI and Road Safety

HI is currently one of only a few international NGOs fighting to put road safety on the development agenda and advocating for safety measures to protect vulnerable road users. We implement road safety programs designed to reduce the number of accidents and assist victims in places like Benin, Cambodia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Laos, and Vietnam. Staff members collect and analyze data on road crashes; provide support and training to local NGOs, transportation specialists, police, and teachers; run awareness campaigns; and provide first aid at the scene of crashes. Learn more.