New campaign aims to curb high road deaths in Asia

Wyatt Ong
New campaign aims to curb high road deaths in Asia
The Safe Steps campaign features educational videos, which will air in 24 countries across Asia – the region posting some of the highest numbers of road deaths

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – With Asia posting some of the highest numbers of deaths due to road accidents, a new safety campaign aims to help arrest the alarming figures of what experts say is a preventable global health issue. 

Starting Saturday, February 13, educational videos and public service announcements started airing in 24 countries across Asia – reaching an estimated 80 million households – with the launch of the Safe Steps road safety campaign.

The program, launched in Kuala Lumpur, is a joint initiative of Prudence Foundation, Federation Internationale de L’Automobile, and the National Geographic Channel.

The long-term project aims to raise awareness on road accidents – the leading cause of death among young people globally – and provide information on what motorists and pedestrians can do to ensure safer roads.

Actress Michelle Yeoh, ambassador for the campaign, said both the government and citizens must do their part to avoid the social cost of road accidents: lives devastated by debilitating injuries, or families falling apart with the death of an income earner.

The campaign, Yeoh said, involves all sectors of society, not just motorists.

“I think it’s fatalistic for people to think, “It’s never going to happen to me.” I don’t understand – is getting to a place 5 minutes earlier going to make such a big difference? Because it will make a difference if a crash happens. And that 5 minutes can be a lifetime of pain and suffering,” Yeoh said.

“We have the right to have safe roads, and we should protect that right. Because that right could save us and the people we love, and other people around us,” she added.

ADVOCATE. Actress Michelle Yeoh is the ambassador for the Safe Steps road safety campaign. Photo by Katerina Francisco/Rappler

In a speech during the launch of the campaign, Malaysian transport minister Liow Tiong Lai said the road safety issue is especially a concern in Asia, as the region faces accelerated, fast-paced growth and development.

“When any economy grows, it is only natural for more vehicles to be on the road with greater infrastructure development. While economic growth is of course good for the country, the increase of vehicles on the road would naturally mean that there is a higher risk of road accidents,” he said.

He added, “This is true not just for Malaysia but also for our neighboring countries and all emerging markets.”

According to the World Health Organization, about 1.25 million people die from road traffic accidents every year. It is the leading cause of death among those aged 15 to 29.

Motorcyclists comprise 23% of road traffic deaths, with many coming from the Southeast Asia and Western Pacific regions.

In the Philippines, 53% of reported road traffic deaths are riders of motorized two- or 3-wheeler vehicles, followed by pedestrians at 19%. 

Data from the Philippines’ public works department put the number of people killed due to road accidents at 1,513, but the WHO pegged the figure much higher at 10,379 fatalities.

Multi-platform approach

While each Asian country has its own unique set of characteristics that affect road safety initiatives – such as the quality of roads and law implementation – the Safe Steps campaign focuses on simple things that motorists and pedestrians can do, said Prudence Foundation chairman Donald Kanak.

At the core of the campaign are short, one-minute videos reminding motorists and pedestrians on basic road safety rules that are too often ignored, such as wearing a seatbelt and avoiding alcohol before driving. Aside from the public service announcements to be aired on television, online and print materials will also complement the campaign.

The messages aren’t exactly new, but they still need to be communicated again and again until awareness is translated into action, said Prudence Foundation Executive Director Marc Fancy.

Fancy said most people already know what they should do before hitting the road – but many still don’t follow basic safety guidelines.

The challenge is to trigger a behavioral change through repeated reminders, and a combination of the “shock” factor – the statistics on how many are killed due to accidents – with information on how people can do their part for safer roads.

“Sometimes you just haven’t had something that makes you think about it. Most people learn from experience…but if we can do our bit by raising some of those without having to have an accident, by using key stats, that might have an effect,” Fancy said. 

Aside from raising public awareness, the campaign also aims to complement existing programs on road safety.

Jean Todt, special envoy for road safety of the United Nations Secretary General, said the campaign is part of efforts to meet the UN sustainable development goal target of halving the number of road deaths globally by 2020. –

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