23 Mar 2018
Global Forum for Road Traffic Safety

By Alex Ward

I have been representing the Towards Zero Foundation at the 76th session of the UNECE, Inland Transport Committee Working Party One (WP1) called the Global Forum for Road Traffic Safety. This blog is a summary of the week and what the main decisions were. (For the meeting agenda see here)

WP1 or the Global Forum for Road Traffic Safety is the only permanent body in the United Nations system that focuses on improving road safety. It’s raison d’etre is to serve as guardian of the United Nations legal instruments aimed at harmonizing traffic rules. The most significant is the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic 1968.The meetings are attended by represents of Traffic Ministries from across the globe, and Road Safety NGOs

The main meetings of WP1 look at the details of amendments to the main conventions put forward by governments. It can also include special sessions dedicated to different areas of road safety policy or work in global regions. On day 1, the meeting was opened by Mr Jean Todt the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for Road Safety. He spoke about the likely establishment of a UN Road Safety Trust Fund and called for political better support. The rest of the session was dedicated to the work by Dr Rohit Baluja and the Institute of Road Traffic Education (IRTE) in South East Asia. The main issue for this region are two wheel vehicles and vulnerable road users. To discuss this, representatives of governments from the region spoke. To close the day it was announced that a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between IRTE and WP1. Dr Rohit Baluja is a former member of the Board of Trustees of the Towards Zero Foundation and I would like to take the chance to congratulate him on his success.

Day 2 of WP1 looked into the safe systems approach. It has been proposed by the Swedish Government to include safe systems approach into the Consolidate Resolution on Road Traffic. The specific debate was on penalties for road traffic violations and what forms they should be adopted. The question being, when someone is caught making a traffic violation, how severely should they be punished. In terms of safe systems, mistakes and violations in the future can be mitigated by the road infrastructure and vehicle technology.

To Day 3 and 4, the debate on both days were on autonomous vehicles. Vehicle regulations are usually dealt with by Working Party 29. However, it is also an important matter to WP1 due to the requirements of the Vienna convention which sets out the concept that a driver is always fully in control and responsible for the behaviour of a vehicle in traffic. With the ongoing development of autonomous vehicles, changes to these issues are important as the 1968 Convention will need to be amended. Over the two days, aspects such as what will be legally possible to do in an autonomous vehicle, and what the legal definition is of this type of vehicle was discussed. There is likely to be a joint meeting of WP1 and WP29 in December 2018 on this subject.

WP1 processes can be very slow and laborious. However, they are fundamentally important. This session is an important staging post, to finally agreeing important amendments to the UN Conventions the resolutions. In my opinion the process could be quickened, yes and if WP1 is to try and keep up with the current pace of change in technology it will need to do so.