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March 23, 2023

The Important Role of Civil Society in Advancing Road Safety Policies in Latin America

By Gema Granados and Paola Sánchez

The importance of road safety laws

Every year, 1.35 million people die because of road crashes worldwide. Most of these deaths are preventable if countries deployed adequate measures to protect all road users. Ninety percent of all fatalities take place in low- and middle-income countries, and the most impacted are vulnerable road users: pedestrians, motorcyclists and cyclists. The lack of adequate road safety policies in Latin America and the Caribbean results in 154,089 deaths per year, representing 12% of all deaths caused by traffic crashes worldwide. Strengthening road safety policies is more urgent than ever to save lives.

In Latin America, civil society organizations (CSOs) play a critical role in advocating for road safety regulations and laws that adhere to the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations and ultimately save lives:

  • CSO’s are the eyes, ears and voices of their communities. They know what the problem is and advocate for a real change.
  • They collect data and gather information that identify policy gaps and provide solutions.
  • They help keep road safety on the government’s agenda.
  • They propose—and build public support and political will for—policies based on global practice.
  • They form alliances and collaborate with different stakeholders for the development of effective road safety policies.
  • They hold governments accountable and make sure that nobody is left behind.
  • They raise awareness and keep the public informed on important issues of road safety.
  • They run advocacy and media campaigns.
  • They provide governments with legal and technical support for policy development and implementation.

Since 2020, the Global Health Advocacy Incubator (GHAI), in alliance with the Global Road Safety Partnership (GRSP), have had the privilege of working closely with CSOs from Colombia and Ecuador, composed of strong, empowered local advocates that have driven important road safety laws in their respective countries.

Road safety policy change in Latin America

Due to dedicated advocacy and communications campaigns run by local organizations supported by GHAI and GRSP, Colombia recently enacted two historical laws that will contribute to have safer streets and safer vehicles for all. In 2022 the Julián Esteban Law reduced speeds nationwide and brought them into alignment with WHO recommendations. In February 2023, the government signed the law that ratified the UNECE 1958 Agreement that brings the country one step closer to raising vehicle safety standards in a manner consistent with the World Forum of Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations (WP.29). Colombia is the first Latin American country to ratify the agreement, making it a pioneer for the region.

Coalition advocating for a new bill submitted to Congress in 2022

In Ecuador, CSOs have been leading the way to ensure the country has better road safety policies to save lives on the roads. In 2021, thanks to a well thought advocacy and communication campaign led by local advocates, the Transit Law was finally approved, and although it is not perfect, it did incorporate positive changes such as the reduction of speed limits for residential zones (30km/h) and school zones (20km/h), among others. Now, local advocates have directed their efforts towards the reform of the rules and regulations of the Transit Law, ensuring it aligns with WHO recommendations. They have delivered specific recommendations to the authorities with the goal of securing a regulation that will save lives.

Coalition for Safety Mobility delivering their inputs to the National authorities to have a regulation of the Transit law in 2022

In both countries, local advocates have been instrumental in sustaining road safety as a top priority. They have combined strategies that include collaboration with policymakers in drafting evidence-based laws and regulations, while pushing for policy change through grassroots mobilization and favorable public opinion. In the end, governments pass but committed and empowered advocates are the ones sustaining the cause of demanding road safety to save lives. It is our job to support civil society efforts be as successful and sustainable as possible.