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Reckless driving has ‘immense’ human and economic toll, Michelle Yeoh warns in Brussels visit

Reckless driving has 'immense' human and economic toll, Michelle Yeoh warns in Brussels visit

The high-profile intervention was part of a global campaign launched by the United Nations on Wednesday afternoon at the headquarters of the European Commission.

«Road safety is an issue that often flies under the radar, but its impact is staggering. Road traffic crashes claim a life every 24 seconds and many more seriously injured. They are the leading cause of death for children and young people aged 5 to 29,» Yeoh said during the presentation.

«Aside from the unthinkable toll of human tragedy, the economic damage is also immense. When road crashes cost economies collectively about $1.7 trillion (€1.6 trillion) each year. How can I pretend that I don’t see these statistics?»

Yeoh, who has served as a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) since 2016, said simple rules, such as respecting speed limits and driving sober, were «more powerful than most people realise.»

«Wearing a seat belt for drivers and front seat occupants reduces the risk of death by 45 to 50%. Just think about that for a moment. A 50% more chance of staying alive. Who wouldn’t go for that?» the Academy Award winner told reporters.

Speaking by her side, Adina Vălean, European Commissioner for transport, said tackling road safety was a «shared responsibility» that required the involvement of national governments, local authorities, civil society and industry.

«There is no sustainability without safety,» Vălean said. «We are very conscious of the need to address road safety in urban areas where up to 70% of those killed are vulnerable road users such as pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists.»

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), road traffic crashes kill 1.35 million people around the world every year and are the leading cause of death for people aged between 5 and 29 years, with men representing three-quarters of fatal injuries.

Road deaths are unequally spread: 93% of them take place in low- and middle-income nations even though their citizens own about 60% of the world’s vehicles. 

The UN wants to halve the number of road traffic crashes by 2030.

The «Global Road Safety» campaign launched on Wednesday aims to contribute to achieving this target by displaying messages on billboards in public spaces in 1,000 cities spread across 80 countries. French multinational JCDecaux will provide their outdoor advertising systems free of charge.

From left to right: Jean-Charles Decaux, Co-CEO of JCDecaux; Michelle Yeoh, Academy Award winner; Jean Todt, UN Special Envoy; and Adina Vãlean, EU Commissioner for transport.European Union, 2023.

«Despite the magnitude of the problem, road safety is not high enough on the political agenda in most countries. And it’s what I would call a silent pandemic,» said Jean Todt, the UN special envoy for road safety, who is married to Yeoh.

«Our objective with this campaign is to reverse this negative trend and mobilise the political will that is needed to increase the actions and financing to save millions of lives.»

Todt pointed out three main threats: excessive speed, the consumption of drugs and alcohol, and distractions caused by smartphones. «Drivers using mobile phones are approximately four times more likely to be involved in a crash,» Todt said.

The awareness campaign, which will be translated into 30 languages, features a dozen celebrities, such as supermodel Naomi Campbell, popstar Kylie Minogue, actors Patrick Dempsey and Michael Fassbender, French footballer Ousmane Dembélé, as well as Novak Djokovic, the tennis player with a notorious track record of contradicting public health guidance.

«The most important thing, first of all, is working with the governments in enforcement (and) education, and that leads to awareness. It’s a collaborative effort that we have to work from all the different levels,» Yeoh said.

Known for her stately screen presence and for performing her own stunts, Yeoh’s career spans four decades and includes titles such as Tomorrow Never Dies, Crazy Rich Asians and Memoirs of a Geisha, as well as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the martial arts film directed by Ang Lee that is considered a seminal work in the action genre.

In March, she won the Oscar for Best Actress for her role in the surreal sci-fi comedy Everything Everywhere All at Once, becoming the first Asian woman to earn the award. Her triumph was enthusiastically celebrated in her home country: Malaysia.

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