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Interview with Mr. Saul Billingsley, Executive Director, FIA Foundation

At the occasion of the 3rd Anniversary of the UNRSF, Mr Saul Billingsley expresses his ambition for the Fund entering a new decade of action for road safety, the role of the private sector and talk about solutions for the most vulnerable on the road : the children and the young adults.

Saul Billingsley FIA

You are the Executive Director of FIA FOUNDATION. Can you please explain us what is the role and objectives of FIA Foundation regarding road safety and mobility?

The FIA Foundation is an international charitable foundation, established by the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile. Our goal is safe and healthy journeys for all and, through our funding programme and our advocacy we support efforts to raise the political profile of road traffic injury and other health impacts of road transport, and to support effective Safe System solutions. We have funded the launch, development and progress of major global initiatives, including the Global New Car Assessment Programme (Global NCAP) and the International Road Assessment Programme (iRAP), as well as national and regional campaigns and legislative change led by high impact NGOs such as Amend, EASST, Fundacion Gonzalo Rodriguez and AIP Foundation. We also support many road safety activities by FIA automobile clubs and fund the policy initiatives of the FIA High Level Panel.

We believe it is vitally important to tackle the social and political structures that enable the transport dysfunction and inequity which is the main underlying cause of road death. All the key advances in road traffic safety have come through political leadership and pressure, often against fierce resistance from vested interests. We see the same today with efforts by cities to introduce bike lanes, neighbourhood car free zones and lower speeds. A vocal and well-connected minority of those that have wealth – measured in terms of access to road space, travel convenience, the keys to a ridiculously large SUV – will fight to keep them. We have to argue the case on behalf of the have-nots for a more equitable use of public space, to ensure clean air and safe journeys for all, however poor or marginalised or vulnerable. So, it is great to see such strong support for the UN’s new ‘Streets for Life’ campaign, which is channelling and uniting disparate organisations and governments and voices into a 21st century movement for basic human rights.

You represent the Private sector donor, with Ms Nora Guitet from Michelin, in the Steering Committee of the UNRSF, can you explain us your role and why it is important for the private sector to be included in this Committee?

Representing donors on the Steering Committee is a really crucial role, and I try to make sure that the views and needs of donors are heard by Fund management and other UN organisations, as our chairman Lord Robertson does on the Fund’s Advisory Board. That is less about influencing specific spending decisions, where the power of donors is rightly balanced with the views of public bodies and experts, and more about helping the Fund to be attractive and responsive to donors. Michelin led a consultation of private sector donors last year which was useful in clarifying donor expectations of the Fund. Above all, donors want the Fund to succeed. We want to see our dollars leveraging more dollars, that’s why we invested in the first place rather than spending the money elsewhere. The UN Road Safety Fund has great potential to be a unifying and catalysing force, but that won’t happen without money and also partnership. And getting more of both those things requires listening to the advice of existing donors. One of my suggestions as a member of the Steering Committee was to reach out to other major players in the road safety funding world to explore where and how the Fund could collaborate and we could add value to each other’s work. We’ve since had two useful coordination meetings bringing together the Fund with the World Bank’s Global Road Safety Facility, the FIA Foundation and Bloomberg Philanthropies. A practical example of building partnership.

The UN General Assembly (UNGA) has proclaimed a new road safety decade of Action for Road Safety(A/RES/74/299), with a goal of reducing road traffic deaths and injuries by at least 50% from 2021-2030. Why is the new resolution so important to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and how road safety is linked to the other SDGs?

The Expert Group for the 2020 Stockholm Ministerial Conference identified the inclusion of SDG targets for road safety as one of signal achievements of the first Decade of Action, and as an opportunity to mainstream road safety into environmental, social and governance indicators of business and government. So it was crucially important that the UN General Assembly in 2019 re-committed to the SDG road safety target 3.6, and that the Stockholm Declaration and the most recent UN resolution in 2020 re-confirmed the ambition of halving road deaths and serious injuries by 2030. We need to do more to capitalise on the connections that being part of the SDGs brings, starting by seeing the new road safety Decade of Action as an integral element of the wider SDG Decade of Action, and resisting the impulse to keep looking inwards. Connecting road safety with climate change action, with education, with the air quality agenda and with efforts to improve health and wellbeing in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic are all vital for building partnerships, securing financing and staying relevant. This is as true for the UN Road Safety Fund as for the rest of the movement.

How the private sector can contribute to road safety in low-and middle-income countries?

Although the Foundation represents the ‘private sector’ on the UNRSF board, we are not really of the private sector, we’re more of a hybrid foundation/NGO and with the instincts of an NGO. So, we can’t claim to speak on behalf of the private sector. That said, there is clearly a role for the private sector in tackling road traffic injury. First, do no harm: contribute as a responsible citizen, by ensuring that supply chains and vehicle fleets are well trained, well maintained, have safe and clean purchasing policies, and robust health and safety policies, so that corporate fleets have minimal negative impact in terms of road injury and the environment; and for OEMs, that all motor vehicles you sell offer five-star safety everywhere in the world, and the benefits of your R&D flows to all. Second, for the investment sector, to reward the companies that do all these things by including road safety metrics within the ESG reporting that increasingly guides socially responsible investing. Third, pay your fair share of tax so that governments can invest in safety improvements, in police training, and in decent emergency and health services. And fourth, contribute financially to road safety efforts both nationally and globally by putting serious money into the UN Road Safety Fund! There are a few honourable companies that have stepped up, but far too few. Imagine what the Fund could achieve if fifty or one hundred companies agreed to provide a million dollars a year. And we need collectively to do a better and more professional job of making the case and raising the funds.

Road traffic injuries are currently the leading cause of death for children and young adults aged 5–29 years, especially in Sub-Saharan countries, signalling a need for a shift in the current child and adolescent health agenda which, to date, has largely neglected road safety. What are the main challenges to protect children and teenagers on the roads? How to stop this tragedy and save the young generation?

A child in Sub-Saharan Africa is twice as likely to be killed by a vehicle as a child anywhere else in the world. Data also shows that a child or youth growing up in a lower income community everywhere in the world is at much greater risk than their richer peers. This is above all an issue of equity, of how we protect young people who are more exposed to traffic because of where they live and how they move. We need to shift the debate from the traditional approach of giving kids a bit of road safety education, some leaflets and a badge, and leaving them to fend for themselves, and instead deal with the issue from a systems perspective. Why and how are children and youth dying: many are pedestrians, or on bikes or motorbikes, many are in unsafe and unsuitable public or school transport. The common denominator will often be regular exposure to high-speed roads, so that is the first priority we need to fix.

But many of the issues young people face on the roads are intertwined with other forms of social neglect: badly designed urban space, discouraging exercise and community, encouraging poor health and crime; lack of recreational facilities; lack of educational or employment opportunities; absence of hope. We need a full spectrum response. This is why, in 2018, the FIA Foundation was the first organisation, in our ‘Unfinished Journey’ report, to call for a Global Youth Summit. This campaign for youth rights has been building momentum, and there is now a lot of detailed work being done – led by the Partnership for Maternal, Neo-natal and Child Health – to develop a health and wellbeing action framework for adolescents. Just this month I co-signed an Open Letter in the British Medical Journal alongside the heads of WHO and UNICEF, the UN Youth Envoy, and many others to urge support for a summit in 2023. This is a great example of how the inclusion of road safety in the SDGs is helping to forge alliances.

The UNGA resolution encourages Member States to support the UN Road Safety Fund (UNRSF).  The Fund celebrates this month its third anniversary.  In your opinion, what is the added value of the UNRSF and its role in entering this new decade? What are your ambitions for the Fund?

We see part of our role at the FIA Foundation as helping to catalyse social start-ups and invest to encourage others to join and build. That’s why we supported the World Bank’s Global Road Safety Facility back in 2006, and again why we pledged launch funding of 10 million dollars for the UN Road Safety Fund in 2018. There is a real need for a convening global fund, or funds, that can aggregate resources and political capital and direct effort to helping governments, UN agencies, development banks and civil society to focus and collaborate on road safety priorities. The UN Road Safety Fund is ideally placed to fulfil this role, and also to positively influence the UN’s policy and practice, as the Facility has influenced the World Bank’s to considerable effect.

If fundraising can kick into gear, and overcome the headwinds of COVID-19, the Fund could be transformational. But even with much more modest levels of resourcing the Fund can be a changemaker within UN institutions. Here we are at the end of the first ‘UN Decade of Action’ and how many UN organisations have really internalised the need to act on road traffic injury, with budgets and external advocacy to match? The Fund can help to overcome the Catch 22 situation we see, where real and sustained institutional funding needs to be secured from member states and other big donors, but UN agencies lack the internal champions or practical track record or motivation to successfully make the case. Changing that paradigm would be a significant achievement. But there is potential to do much, much more.