Reflections on the 2nd World Youth Assembly and 3rd Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety
On February 18th, 2020, over 200 youth delegates from 75 different countries were united in Stockholm, Sweden at the 2nd World Youth Assembly for the sole purpose of achieving Vision Zero.
Youth are often underestimated in what we can accomplish to positively impact our society. Yet here we were, having done work in our respective countries to prove this preconceived notion wrong. Through conversations and parallel sessions, experiences were shared about how our communities have been impacted by traffic violence and how each was responding. As ideas were flying, it was evident that each youth delegate was getting increasingly more excited, picking up ideas to bring back home with them. We knew that in this stimulating environment, we were becoming an even more notable force, set on the goal of creating safer, equitable, and more sustainable roads.
One of the most significant things I learned during the World Youth Assembly was how interconnected road safety is with other major global issues such as the climate crisis, poverty, and gender and racial inequalities. Through discussions with other youth delegates, it became quite clear that addressing the issue of road safety would greatly facilitate solutions for these other concerns. I learned about rideshare programs in South America, biking incentives in Europe, and efficient public transportation in Asia. These are examples of successful systems that restructure everyday lives in the simplest of ways but address a multitude of issues: individual health, clean air, traffic congestion, pollution and litter, and many others. We also discussed the development of positive programs, such as city-sponsored strategies to keep women safe on public transportation, but also negative inconsistencies between safety features sold in cars in the global north and global south.
At the end of the day, we adopted the Global Youth Statement for Road Safety,
outlining the reality youth face across the world on a daily basis, and our demands. But most importantly, we used the Sustainable Development Goals defined by the United Nations to outline our action points; what we, as youth, are committed to doing to ensure change.
Unfortunately, I did not feel the same level of enthusiasm for change at the 3rd Ministerial Conference on Road Safety, which was held in Stockholm on February 19th and 20th. The Ministerial Conference discussed the issue and its background, but very little was shared about particular solutions. The conference culminated in the Stockholm Declaration, which called on governments and non-governmental organizations to commit to a new decade of action, with the goal of reducing traffic deaths by at least 50% over the next decade. But, how can we call on governments to reach these goals if we don’t discuss viable project implementation options?
I commend these representatives for taking the initiative to create this Declaration, and I have enormous appreciation for nations that have adopted the statement, but this is now the second decade of action for road safety to be declared. The first one, from 2011 to 2020, saw very little improvements. It was also during this period that, in a span of fifteen months, I lost three classmates to reckless drivers in separate crashes.
It was disappointing to see that, in a room filled with 1500 high-level officials and experts from multiple policy, health, and engineering fields, the discussions rarely went past the ‘who’, ‘what’, and ‘why’. The ‘how’ was almost completely ignored. Are we really surprised that states and governments have trouble addressing the issue of traffic violence if ideas on how to do so aren’t being broadcasted and exchanged?
As an engineering student, the ‘how’ is critical. Yet, in these international conversations, it is the only area that is strikingly absent. What role do international conferences play if not to assist these conversations and sharing of solutions?
What the Ministerial Conference was missing, and more broadly, what worldwide road safety efforts are missing, is the tenacity, energy, and fighting spirit that youth have so clearly demonstrated, in addition to our data- and solution-focused approach.
Especially considering that the United States was the only country not to ratify the Stockholm Declaration, it is time that the Vision Zero movement in the U.S. take a page out of the book written by youth activists. Actions speak louder than words, and in this case, actions save lives.