Dr Bernhard Schwartländer, WHO Representative in China remarks to UN Global Road Safety Week event

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Beijing, China
7 May 2015

Good morning friends and colleagues – it is great to be here with all of you to mark the UN’s Global Road Safety Week, and in particular this year’s theme of saving children’s lives.

It is terrific to be here with colleagues from the State Council’s National Working Committee on Children and Women (NWCCW), the Ministry of Public Security, the Beijing Government, the Education Ministry, and my friends from the National Health and Family Planning Commission and China CDC.

As pleased as I am to be here today, I am afraid I need to start my remarks today with a confession – and that is that the issue of road safety makes me very angry. Children and road safety – even more so.

Here in China, every year up to 10,000 children die on the roads. That is almost 30 per day. Think about that, by the time we leave here today, 2 more friends of our young stars here will have died.

The 30 children who will die on China’s roads today, and tomorrow, and the next day … are kids just doing what normal kids do – travelling in cars with their families, walking or playing in the street, going to and from school.

The reason that this makes me angry? Because by definition, each of the 30 child deaths that will occur today, and tomorrow, and the next day … can be prevented.

Just this morning as I travelled here on my bike, I saw dozens and dozens of children on the back of bicycles and motorbikes, not wearing helmets. I rode past cars with some very little children inside, not restrained in car seats – despite all we know about how properly fitted car seats save young children’s lives in a crash. At one point I had to ride along the road facing incoming traffic, because the cycle lane was blocked by parked cars. While I may be able to handle this, just think about how young people may suffer. And more than once, I saw cars flying through red lights to turn right, narrowly missing pedestrians and cyclists – including young kids who I presume were on their way to school.

How can this be? How is it that the few yuan that it costs to buy a decent helmet is deemed too expensive to protect the brains and minds of innocent children, who will take care of us when we grow old? How is it that so many cars – don’t have useable seatbelts? How is it that the “rights” of cars have become more important than the health and life of our children?

So that is why I am a little bit angry this morning! But the great thing about Global Road Safety Week, of course, is that it is a terrific opportunity to call for actions and policies that, once implemented – will save 30 Chinese children’s lives every day.

So, together let’s move from words to action:

… let’s call on car manufacturers … to commit to providing a good quality car seat – every time they sell a new car to a family with a young child in China;

… let’s call on all parents … to make sure their child is wearing a helmet every time they get on a bike – and on the Government to introduce and enforce the laws that will make this happen;

… let’s call on China’s legislators … to bring in tough road safety laws – for example, about speeding, seatbelts, helmets, and running red lights, and make sure they are properly enforced;

… and let’s all work together, to empower children to make roads safer. I very much like the Chinese concept: ‘small hand leading the big hand’. Let’s empower the small hand to influence the big hand – for example, by teaching children to ask their parents not to speed through a red light when turning right on the way to school – because not doing so, might just save a school friend’s life. Let’s make children themselves our ambassadors for a better future.

Doing all that is possible to keep children safe on the roads is surely a hallmark of any civilized society. We know what needs to be done – together let’s garner the political will and the resources to make it happen. China’s children deserve nothing less.

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