The Developing World Needs Safer Cars

A few weeks ago in Latin America, an international car manufacturer advertised one of its vehicles using the 5-star safety rating that had been earned in crash-tests performed by EuroNCAP for the European version of that model. However, the version of this same model sold in Latin America is not eligible for that five star rating. A lot of the safety measures are taken out of the cars when produced for the Latin American market. The cars do not live up to the UN vehicle safety regulations.

Following prompt reaction by Global NCAP, the advertising campaign was adjusted. However, we should pause and look at what this incident reveals. The differences that exist between the same model of vehicle sold in North America, Europe, Japan or Korea, and those sold in developing countries can sometimes be minor, but in many cases they are huge.

This issue is particularly dangerous when it comes to the safety of a vehicle. Unfortunately, consumers in developing countries are often not provided with enough information about how safe the cars sold in their specific market are. The problem is that these differences in safety translate into a very simple equation for passengers in case of a crash: the difference between a good chance to survive, and a high probability not to. To put it simply: the difference between life and death. Given that 90% of the 1.25 million people killed and the 50 million injured every year on the world's roads live in low- and middle-income countries, this is by no means a minor problem.

The results of the crash tests performed by Global NCAP and its affiliates over the past years have shown that most cars sold in middle-income countries do not comply with what we consider to be the standard safety features that should equip all vehicles.

These include four components that have proven effective in increasing safety:

• Seat belts and seat belt anchorages in the front and rear
• Minimum resistance to front and side impacts
• Electronic stability control systems
• Pedestrian safety - e.g. measures to limit the harm to pedestrians in case of shock

We have been raising the alarm about this situation for some time, including by displaying crashed cars at the United Nations European Headquarters in Geneva or at the 2nd Ministerial Conference on Road Safety in Brasilia last year. Now we have a historic opportunity to radically upgrade the safety of cars worldwide.

In just a few days, on 15 April, delegates from all countries will gather in New York for a special session of the General Assembly of the United Nations dedicated to road safety.

The General Assembly will adopt a resolution inviting Member States to develop and implement national road safety plans in order to meet the ambitious target set in the Sustainable Development Goals adopted last September to half the number of global deaths and injuries from road traffic accidents by 2020.

This resolution is expected to encourage any county that has not yet become a contracting party to the various UN legal instruments on road safety to do so. Countries will also be invited to implement the United Nations vehicle safety regulations, or equivalent national standards, to ensure that all new motor vehicles, meet applicable minimum regulations for occupant and other road users protection, with seat belts, air bags and active safety systems fitted as standard. These legal instruments and regulations have a proven track record of reducing mortality and serious injury wherever they are applied.

If adopted, this resolution would be a real game changer! It would represent an unprecedented commitment by the international community to improve vehicle standards globally instead of having high standards for developed economies and lower ones for everyone else. And it would give the clearest message to vehicle manufacturers and to governments about the levels of safety that should be universally applied to all passenger cars by 2020 at the latest.

We therefore urge all UN Member States to adopt the draft resolution on 15 April, and thereafter to fully apply the UN legal instruments on road safety and vehicle regulations.

Of course, many countries will require technical assistance to do so. Together with all the actors of the road safety community, we stand ready to help countries to accede to and to implement these instruments and regulations.

We also call on the motor industry as a whole and on all car and parts makers individually to make the necessary adjustments to their production lines. And they need not wait until 2020 to do so. It will be in the best interest of all car manufacturers to demonstrate the real quality of their models in terms of safety, not only in Europe, North America or Japan, but worldwide.
With this resolution, safety can become a key component in the choice of a car in all countries, saving millions of lives.

This is an opportunity that we cannot afford to miss.