In 1989, more than 9,000 people lost their lives in traffic accidents in Spain. From then up to the present day, the figure has decreased by more than 80%. That is why we are a benchmark in Europe; and that is why we have a particular responsibility towards the countries in Latin America. Despite all our efforts, there are more than one million fatalities a year worldwide. And each victim is a failure that should drive us to pursue “Objetivo Cero”, our goal of zero deaths on the road.
TEXT: CRISTINA BISBAL IMAGES: ISTOCK, FUNDACIÓN MAPFRE
Over the last three decades, the number of traffic fatalities in our country has fallen by almost 80%. Since 1989, the year that set an unfortunate record, things have changed a lot. They really have. Regulations have changed, roads have improved, the AVE railway network has been created and extended, we have replaced words like accident with incident… But, above all, the awareness of the general public has changed. Jesús Monclús, director of the Road Safety and Prevention Area of Fundación MAPFRE, translates all these changes into a single figure: 150,000 victims saved over the last 30-plus years. Despite this, every year more than 1,300,000 people still die across the globe. A shocking statistic that shows us how much there is yet to be done.
This was made clear at the presentation of the book Del Infinito al Cero. Así lo hicimos [From Inifinity to Zero. This is how we did it], co-edited by Pere Navarro, director general of Spain’s Directorate General of Traffic (DGT), and Monclús himself. This publication reviews the 25 years that have passed since the MAPFRE Road Safety Institute was created, “a key organization in this field in our country”, as asserted by Antonio Huertas, chairman of both MAPFRE and Fundación MAPFRE. The book reflects back upon this time. That is why it involved the collaboration of no less than 50 experts in road safety, who, in the words of Fernando Grande Marlaska, Spain’s Minister of the Interior, “are key players and firsthand witnesses of this process that began decades ago and has not yet concluded. It will only end when we have finally achieved the goal of zero fatalities and serious injuries in traffic accidents. It is a reflective look back that provides useful elements to help us face the future.”
Indeed, there is still much to be done. In particular, in Spain, we must move further towards our “goal of zero”. This is what Jesús Monclús describes in the book as “the difficult, but wonderful”; the thing “we have to work hard and sweat for.” He is referring to various regulations, initiatives in the field of new technologies, and plans and strategies that are already in place but yet to be finalized. But he is also talking about improving our road culture and respect for traffic regulations. In particular, “small daily speeding violations: with a lower individual risk, of course, than major violations, but perhaps even comparable at the aggregate level because of their extreme frequency.” Because who does not walk across the road when the traffic light is red or does not go over the maximum speed limit in the city, even if just a little?
These small offenses and, above all, the level of social tolerance they enjoy, could come to an end. Several solutions must be applied. One of these is road safety education. In this area, Fundación MAPFRE has a lot to say, because it is precisely this that has been, and continues to be, one of its key activities. This is demonstrated by the fact that over the last 12 years alone, close to three million children have benefited from the courses run by the organization. “It is essential that from childhood we are taught that we have certain duties, regulations to abide by and a responsibility towards third parties”, says the Minister of the Interior. More can and should be done. Several co-authors of the book argue, for example, that the Directorate-General for Traffic should become a Secretary of State with greater capacity to generate synergies between the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Transport, Mobility, and Urban Agenda, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education.
Despite all that remains to be done, the role we play at the international level must be recognized. The implementation of the driving license points system, the reform of the Penal Code, and speed limits both on secondary roads and in urban areas have together brought about a very striking reduction in the number of deaths and serious injuries. Fernando Grande Marlaska writes in the book’s prologue: “In the European context, in 2019 Spain presented a fatality rate of 37 fatalities per million inhabitants, below the European average of 51 fatalities per million inhabitants. In 2020, a year marked by the COVID-19 pandemic. for the first time we have dropped below 1,000 deaths on the road.”
And this is how we are recognized beyond our borders, as Pere Navarro said at the presentation of Del Infinito al Cero: “Spain has become a benchmark for the whole of Europe. We have achieved a silent revolution, without being aware of it. In terms of reduced road traffic fatalities across Europe, between 2001 and 2020, Spain is in first place And we are the envy of the rest of the continent. They envy our activism, commitment and the prevalence of our victims’ associations. Our traffic police. Our administrative organization, the DGT, an essential element in any public policy. In Europe they also envy our civil society and how involved people are in road safety. And also the political support that it gets: it is neither right-wing nor left-wing, it is above ideologies and the continual squabbling.”
In light of this somewhat privileged status, Spain has a responsibility towards those who are not in the same situation. And specifically towards Latin America, where, as Antonio Huertas said at the presentation of the book, “road safety is still unfinished business”. Jeanne Picard, president of the Ibero-American Federation of Associations of Victims against Road Violence, FICVI, and cofounder of STOP Accidents, is of the same opinion:”In most Latin American countries, human rights are violated on a daily basis.” Indeed, the number of road accidents continues to rise there. The associations that make up FICVI are very aware of this and therefore orient their voluntary work towards mobilizing all social actors to promote changes in public policy, modify laws, and open up spaces of shared responsibility.
The DGT has also made a significant effort to transfer the models that have been successful in Spain to Latin America. But so far, only two road safety agencies —Argentina and Colombia— have independent budgets. In Mexico, civil society has been campaigning for two years for the federal government to pass a road safety law, which it still does not have. And Chile is close to approving the CATI (Centro Automatizado de Tratamiento de Infracciones or Automated Center for Processing Traffic Violations) project, which is based on the Spanish model of installing speed cameras with automatic penalties. “This illustrates the fact that changes are very slow and that there is still no political will or awareness at country level to prevent road violence,” Picard reflecs. To help promote prevention, the publication is being sent to the heads of road safety agencies in all Latin American countries, including Brazil.
All this shows that road safety is a chapter that cannot yet be closed. There is much to be done, although Picard herself understands that “this book represents hope, a road traveled. It is the story of all that we have achieved, but also the story of our loved ones who are no longer with us and whose memory reminds us that we are very fragile, that in a second our lives can be lost in an avoidable traffic accident,” concludes the president of FICVI. Perhaps even greater social and political awareness is needed for this. Jesús Monclús offered a reflection along these lines: “Globally, crashes are the main cause of death of children and young people between 5 and 29 years of age, according to the WHO. How can we tolerate this? And he continued: “If we are not convinced that deaths in traffic accidents are avoidable, that we have the knowledge and measures to prevent them, and that our “Objectivo Cero” is achievable in the medium term if we scale up our efforts, actions and resources sufficiently, we will be signing the death warrant of many people.”