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In June 2020, iRAP’s CEO Rob McInerney was recently asked to share a personal perspective on COVID19 and road safety for the Australasian College of Road Safety (ACRS) weekly newsletter 

Read the full article below.


Mr Rob McInerney FACRS

Fellow – ACRS
CEO – International Road Assessment Program (iRAP)

Protecting Lives and Protecting Livelihoods:  Imagine a response to road safety like COVID-19
Can you remember the U2 and Green Day video clip for the “The Saints are Coming” after the Hurricane Katrina disaster.  Footage of some sadly fake news of how U.S. Iraq troops were redeployed to New Orleans to help with the rescue missions and provision of supplies.

Thankfully, our response to the COVID-19 crisis in Australia and NZ has taken on the urgency and scale of response needed, and despite some setbacks recently we should be proud of our decision makers and their courage.  What would road trauma levels be in this country if we responded with the same bravery, courage, intellect, investment and coordination as has been applied to COVID-19?  More of that later!

As the CEO of iRAP, I was on the Steering Committee for the Global Ministerial Conference in Sweden at the end of February.  Ministers and senior officials from across the planet coming together to reflect on the Decade of Action for Road Safety where our progress has fallen short of the fatality reduction targets.  New commitments were made for the Decade ahead, with a goal to halve road deaths and injuries by 2030.  Recognising that road safety is in someone’s value chain was a key recommendation of the Academic Expert Group.  The Stockholm Declaration charting the course for the Decade ahead and the commitment to achieving the Global Road Safety Performance Targets was agreed and the UNRSC Ten Step Plan for Safer Infrastructure was launched.

Our iRAP Innovation Workshop shared success stories from around the world and plans for the future.  New iRAP partnerships with the FIA FoundationEuropean Investment Bank and Inter-American Development Bank were launched building on our positive work with the World Bank, ADB and low, middle and high-income country governments across more than 100 countries.  Our exciting Star Rating for Schools global partnership with FedEx, FIA Foundation and now 3M was launched.  Thanks to the TAC team in Victoria we were able to launch our Vaccines for Roads resource shining a spotlight on the true human impact of road trauma.  We had the wind in the road safety sails and full of positive energy.

Even with WHO co-hosting the event with the Government of Sweden it went ahead as normal with only a few countries not able to send delegates due to the virus.  Interestingly some of our Ai-RAP partners like Google, and other big companies did stop their staff travelling – they must have a good search engine!

Barely home to Australia and I was in crisis mode and not full steam ahead for global road safety as planned.  iRAP staff travel a lot to help our partners around the world.  We have staff in China, Philippines, India, Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia, Brussels, UK, Uganda, Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Mexico.  We have partners we care about in over 100 countries.  One of our team goals is to be 5-Star Safe, Healthy and Happy and I am always conscious of our risk driving the roads of the world and the other security risks.  Our security advisor was able to have the global risks and facts in our hand early and we were able to get our staff safely back to their home countries before any of the restrictions kicked in.  We were set up working from home before it became mandatory.  We were able to protect our staff.

Together with our executive team our focus for the response was Protect, Survive and Thrive.  One of our previous Board Members (John Mumford) was an ex BP exec and he taught us a lot about risk management that helps us every day.  Have the worst covered, create a clear line of communication and decisions and focus 100% of your energy on the priorities in order.  This also helps to not feel swamped when facing a crisis.

Protect:  Looking after our great team was the number one priority as part of the immediate response.  We also recognised the impact of COVID-19 would be very different for every staff member in every country and we’d need to be kind and responsive to those needs.  As a small sample of the impacts some of our team have had close friends and relatives die from COVID-19 around the world and one team member became the proud father of twins in Manila the day before a hard lockdown.  More than a third of our global team have needed flexibility to juggle their personal and family impacts that we have been pleased to support.

Survive:  As a small passionate charity with global reach we are always trying to do absolutely everything we can to save lives.  We didn’t want one health crisis to take over at the expense of another.  We put together a team to help our partners rapidly ramp up remote delivery options for all the projects around the world.  This has included remote training for teams in Kazakhstan in Russian and with the Inter-American Development Bank we are about to deliver a fully remote assessment of the Pacific Corridor through 7 Central American countries from Mexico to Panama.  This is a reassessment of the corridor that was assessed in 2010 and has seen millions of dollars worth of road upgrades rolled out over the last ten years based on that initial survey.  We can’t wait to see the results!

Thrive:  COVID-19 has united every country on earth.  We have stopped travelling and started zooming.  We are sharing our home lives, our pets and our kids with our colleagues.  We are all human and we are sharing that.  We also have the chance to shape opportunities for the future.  We’ve been able to focus on what matters – from our families to our friends and for our passions and pursuits.  For me and the iRAP family, that is road safety!  We have been helping UNICEF set up guidelines to get kids to school safely after lockdown as part of the Star Rating for Schools work.  We have encouraged the Australian Government and others to mobilise stimulus for safer roads that saves lives, saves the health system and creates jobs.  We have done “pop-up star ratings” for the “pop-up” bike lanes and footpaths and will help to make them permanent.  We have published papers to encourage others to capture the opportunities that a crisis like COVID-19 creates.

And so back to the question of what would road trauma levels be in this country if we responded with the same bravery, courage, intellect, investment and coordination as has been applied to COVID-19?  What if the realisation that we will kill and injure 400,000 Australians over the next ten years in road crashes finally jolted us to so NO WAY!  What if we brought together the incredible wealth of experts in this country in a crisis response centre rather than a summit and let them loose?  What if we used 100% of our energy to find the solutions to act immediately, rather than 90% of our energy finding excuses to say no and manage the status quo?

The COVID-19 challenge has often been discussed as a trade-off between protecting lives and protecting livelihoods.  There is no trade-off with investment to reduce road trauma.  It will save lives, save money and create jobs.  It will protect lives and protect livelihoods.

At the launch of the UN Road Safety Week at the Sydney Opera House in 2017, with all our ACRS colleagues and Patron former Governor General Sir Peter Cosgrove I said “What would happen if we truly treated road crashes as a disaster – which they are – and applied a “disaster response” mentality to our action over the next 3 years?  What life-saving impact could we have?”.  We didn’t….but imagine if we had mobilised the same scale of response as we have to COVID-19.

  • Prime Minister Morrison would be convening a national cabinet on road safety
  • Every day, papers would report the new cases of death, brain and spinal injury that day!!
  • The excitable ABC data fella would be showing charts of hospital costs going up and the projections for 40,000 cases by the end of the year
  • Immediate implementation and scaling up of all the Inquiry Recommendations
  • Immediate baseline measurement of the Global Road Safety Performance Targets
  • Immediate suppression strategy with an ultimate Vision Zero eradication plan agreed
  • Immediate “Stop the 1 and 2-star cars” border controls would be in place
  • Retrofit subsidy for driver assistance technologies to all existing cars, trucks and motorcycles
  • Police resources tripled to ensure compliance with all road rules
  • Immediate 30km/h urban CBD speed limits and safe crossings installed
  • Massive TreeKeeper package to install safety barriers country wide
  • Car factories retooled to build road safety products and army deployed to construction sites
  • 1.5 metre social distancing for vehicles and cyclists with bike-lanes provided
  • 1.5 metre social distancing for head-on traffic on our undivided roads with wide centrelines
  • Schools closed until we can guarantee 5-star journeys to the front gate
  • Immediate legislation for all new roads to be 3-star or better for all road users
  • New SpeedSAFE Phone App to enable point to point speed monitoring for all drivers
  • Immediate speed limit changes on some zero and one-star roads
  • Purchase limits for alcohol in pubs for any driver of a vehicle at the establishment
  • “Stop the Spread” road use training provided for all road users
  • Tourists and new residents entering the country attend mandatory road safety training
  • The Safe System Vaccines for Roads applied across the whole population!

Oh well – hopefully the Saints are Coming for road safety soon! ?

Mr Rob McInerney FACRS
Fellow – ACRS
CEO – International Road Assessment Program (iRAP)

Rob is a Fellow of the Australasian College of Road Safety – you can also read the full article and follow him on LinkedIn here

This piece was originally published in the ACRS newsletter here

Read a recent iRAP paper on ‘COVID-19 Impact: Implementing a Life-Saving Stimulus for Liveable Communities’ here

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