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UN officials call for harnessing power of information technology to reduce road fatalities

Photo: ITU
Photo: ITU

UN officials call for harnessing power of information technology to reduce road fatalities

United Nations officials are calling for harnessing the power of information and communication technologies (ICTs) to improve road safety and thereby save over a millions lives each year.

“Let us make the best of technology to dramatically reduce traffic fatalities. This can save millions of lives,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his message for this year’s World Telecommunication and Information Society Day.

Celebrated each year on 17 May, the Day marks the anniversary of the signature of the first International Telegraph Convention in 1865 which led to the creation of the UN International Telecommunication Union (ITU). The theme for this year is “ICTs and improving road safety.”

Mr. Ban noted that road accidents kill nearly 1.3 million people every year. They also leave millions more injured or permanently disabled, placing a heavy economic burden on families and countries.

“Information and communication technologies provide many options,” said the Secretary-General. “Intelligent Transport Systems and navigation devices can help reduce congestion. Radars can help to prevent collisions with other road users, including pedestrians.

“Hands-free communications mean less accidents, especially among young people who account for more than half of road deaths,” he added.

Mr. Ban commended the ITU for its work with industry to develop ICT standards and for collaborating with the International Automobile Federation to create awareness on road safety.

ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun I. Touré said in his message for the Day that ICTs play a catalytic role in creating opportunities for people in every walk of life.

“Today, even as we take to the streets in our vehicles, we have the tools at our fingertips to communicate across the world, navigate through dense traffic and find our way in unfamiliar terrain,” he stated.

“While these technologies are becoming increasingly ubiquitous, we must ensure that we use them responsibly and with caution, especially while driving, in order to avoid accidents and injury.”

Mr. Touré said that “driver distraction and road-user behaviour,” such as text messaging and interfacing with in-vehicle navigation or communication systems while driving, are among the leading contributors to road traffic fatalities and injuries.

“My message is clear: Don’t be distracted by technology when driving, whether calling from your mobile phone, or setting the navigation system. Sending a text message or tweeting while driving is extremely dangerous and should be avoided at all cost.

“At the same time, I call upon our Member States and industry partners to promote the use of safe interfaces and hands-free devices in vehicles and take action to eliminate technology-related distractions while driving. Along with promoting national policies to encourage the use of ICT in enhancing road safety, we must also promote the development and use of intelligent transport systems.

“These measures will not only help prevent traffic accidents,” he stated, “but also improve efficiencies in traffic management as a means of combating the effects of climate change.”

He added that ITU has been developing standards for safe user interfaces and communication systems in vehicles designed to optimize driving performance by eliminating unsafe technology-related distractions.

The Geneva-based agency has also been leading worldwide efforts in developing state-of-the-art ICT standards for Intelligent Transport Systems and driver safety that utilize a combination of computers, communications, positioning and automation technologies, including in-car radars for collision avoidance.