Consumer demand is a very powerful tool in our global marketplace. And today consumers have the chance to use this power to save lives.
The statistics surrounding traffic crashes and fatalities around the world are shocking. Road crashes kill 1.3 million people every year while tens of millions more are injured. Traffic fatalities are the eighth leading cause of death around the world. The International Road Assessment Programme estimates the financial cost of traffic accidents as roughly $1.8 trillion per year.
While road crashes affect people in every county, the most damaging impacts of this global problem fall on those nations least able to afford them. Citizens of developing nations are 2.5 times more likely to be killed in traffic as residents in developed nations. A disproportionate number of those killed and injured are of prime working age, creating an economic drag on entire nations in addition to untold personal tragedy.
Thankfully, the march of technology has continued to make driving a safer, more comfortable experience. From the trusty seatbelt and collapsible steering column, through to more advanced innovations such as the airbag, anti-lock brakes (ABS), autonomous braking (AEB) and electronic stability control (ESC), new cars are increasingly able to prevent crashes and protect occupants from the terrible effects of a collision.
But in reality these components are not always included in every car to come off the assembly line. Indeed, the story of car safety is more about how consumers are left at risk when government regulations are lax and consumers have little knowledge of the issue.
Research has shown consumers often assume new cars are as safe as they can be. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
The Global New Car Assessment Programme (NCAP) tests new cars - literally driving them at speed into solid barriers - to test both the strength of the vehicle and how safety features react in a crash. Obviously how well a car performs in a test shows the chances a driver and passengers have of surviving if they are in a real life crash. NCAP rates cars on their features - five star cars means good, zero star cars means bad.
It would be easy to think that car manufacturers are striving to ensure all their cars are five star. This would mean consumers obtain the safest possible cars for their money and their new car is well equipped to help them survive.
Sadly this is not always true. It is too often the case that new cars are manufactured without these lifesaving technologies as standard. This problem is particularly prevalent in many low and middle-income countries, where lax regulations and car companies looking to save on production costs combine to see new cars sold which lack even basic safety features.
If regulations were in place - meaning if governments in all countries set laws for at least the most basic safety features in all cars sold, and possibly went even further and added in some of the new and life saving crash avoidance technologies, such as ESC - car companies would need to comply. Or else they could not sell their unsafe vehicles anywhere.
This is where consumers can play a role. By demanding the safety features that manufacturers all too often do not include as standard, and indeed, in a shocking amount of countries do not even consider important. As consumers we must call for safety, and also for equality. On a global stage, a car buyer in Mexico should not be any less safe than a car buyer across the border in the USA.
Consumers International, the international federation of consumer organisations with 240 Members in 120 countries, has joined the #STOPTHECRASH partnership in their campaign to have crucial safety technology installed as standard in all new vehicles, regardless of where they're produced or sold. The #STOPTHECRASH partnership is led by the Global NCAP working in conjunction with technology manufacturers and Civil Society groups around the world. The partnership is pushing for UN Member States, especially those with significant automobile production, to include minimum safety features, and also to mandate ESC in all new models by 2018 and in all automobiles in production by the end of the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety.
Electronic Stability Control (ESC) is widely considered to be the most significant development in car safety technology since the introduction of the seatbelt more than half a century ago. When a car is in a high speed skid, this technology autocorrects the slide. It is an amazing feeling to have your car stabilise when it is out of control. Seventeen case studies between 2001 and 2007 have shown ESC to be highly effective, reducing single vehicle crashes by approximately 30% and averting 188,500 crashes in Europe alone, saving over 6,000 lives .
With the recent drafting of global regulations for ESC by the UN, it has never been easier for Member States to mandate the technology. #STOPTHECRASH seeks to put pressure on governments and work with nations looking to adopt the regulations. ESC is now mandatory in Australia, Canada, the EU, Israel, Japan, Russia, South Korea, Turkey and the USA. Argentina and Brazil have also recently committed to making the system compulsory.
It's the true push and pull of consumer demand combined with pressure on governments to adopt regulations that will save lives. As we head into the second half of the UN's Decade of Action for Road Safety, the pressure is on to meet the ambitious targets set in 2010. It is only through concerted global initiatives such as #STOPTHECRASH that bring together representatives from government, industry, consumer groups and Civil Society that we will see meaningful improvements in the rate of road fatalities around the world. That means lives saved.
While global tragedies on the scale of road crashes can seem insurmountable, there are proven methods available to us as an international community to dramatically reduce the numbers of people dying on the road. Pushing for mandatory inclusion of life saving technology in all new vehicles is one of these tried and tested methods. Consumers have a huge roll to play.
Consumers International is excited and proud to be a part of this cause and this movement. We will be working with our international network of consumer organisations to publicise the importance of car safety features and exerting influence on both governments and car manufacturers to adopt the regulations.
Manufacturers will listen and include safety features and crash avoidance technologies in new cars once it is clear to them that this is what consumers are demanding.