Writing a travel column for Kol HaBirah has allowed me to share my experiences of visiting interesting and exotic places. Perhaps my articles have even inspired others to travel! This, of course, would be very flattering. It also, however, would impose upon me the responsibility to make my readers aware of the dangers of travel, as well as provide them with information that will encourage safe travel decisions.
This article will focus on the issue of road safety for people traveling abroad. The statistics are staggering: 1.3 million people are killed every year on the roads of the world and 20-50 million people are injured. Road crashes are the number one killer of young people aged 15-29 worldwide, and the eighth leading cause of death for all ages. Moreover, road crashes are the single greatest cause of death for healthy Americans traveling abroad.
The Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT) is a humanitarian, nonprofit organization dedicated to improving road safety for American and international travelers worldwide. ASIRT was founded in memory of Aron Sobel, a graduate of Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School. In 1995, Sobel was two weeks away from his medical school graduation when he was killed, along with 22 other passengers, in a bus crash in Turkey.
ASIRT works together with corporations, the tourist industry, study abroad communities, and governmental and non-governmental organizations to improve road safety through education, advocacy, and project development. ASIRT also produces Road Travel Reports (RTRs) for over 80 countries. These reports give detailed, comprehensive, country-specific road safety information, such as which roads to avoid, which bus companies have poor safety records, and how to negotiate complicated traffic signals (which often vary from country to country).
When I travel abroad, I frequently refer to the information contained in the RTRs. Although it cannot be proven, I am convinced that this has allowed me to make safe travel decisions that have saved me from serious injury or worse. For those who read and enjoy my column (and even those who don’t) I strongly recommend going to the ASIRT website and downloading an RTR before beginning your travels. I also encourage you to give RTRs to friends and family before they begin their travels.
I believe strongly in the mission of ASIRT and have been a member of its Board of Directors for over a decade. For me, road safety is not just an issue of practical concern but an issue of theological perspective. There are those who take a deterministic, even fatalistic attitude towards road safety. I disagree, and believe the power of our choices.
When it comes to road safety, making the wrong choices can have devastating consequences. In fact, 94 percent of serious crashes are due to poor human choices, including drinking and driving, speeding, and not wearing seatbelts. On the other hand, making the right choices can stem the tide of what has become a global epidemic. Rochelle Sobel, president and founder of ASIRT explained, “there are no such things as inevitable traffic accidents, only preventable traffic crashes.” ASIRT and other organizations work tirelessly to make this a reality.
Road safety is an issue that can unite people of good faith from around the world. In 2009, together with Sobel and Cathy Silberman, the executive director of ASIRT, I traveled to Moscow for the First Global Ministerial Conference on International Road Safety. The conference was called by the U.N. General Assembly to address the large and growing impact of road crashes and to propose action for the future. It was hosted by Russian President Dmitry Mednedev and attended by Ministers of Transportation and Health from over 70 countries. It culminated with the adoption of the Moscow Declaration, which declared 2011-2020 as the Decade of Action for Road Safety.
During this conference, ministers sat four to a table, alphabetically according to country. At one of the tables were the ministers from Iran, Iraq, Israel, and Jamaica. Yet, despite cultural and political differences, the ministers were deep in conversation, sharing road safety best practices. It was truly inspirational and gave me hope that, with better cooperation, the staggering statistics given at the beginning of this article can be dramatically reduced. (It should be noted that Israel, although not without challenges, has one of the lower car death rates of any country. In 2013, Israel had 3.6 road deaths per 100,000 population; by comparison, the United States had 10.6 deaths per 100,000, and the average for all countries is 17.4 deaths per 100,000.)
On December 11, ASIRT will hold its annual gala at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C. The theme for the gala is “Building a Road Safe Future.” The honorees are Shane O’Connor, communications advisor of FedEx Global Citizenship; U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Occupant Protection Division Chief Maria Vegega; and international journalist Tanya Mohn. ASIRT volunteers Philip and Toby Berman will also be honored. For more information on ASIRT, including information on attending the gala, please go to www.asirt.org.
By Paul J. Blank