The actress, who has been advocating road safety since 2008, says a recently-launched campaign aims to provide governments with solutions to provide safer roads
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (Feb. 20, 2016) — With many countries grappling with natural disasters, peace and order, and economic uncertainty, protecting pedestrians and road users may not exactly rank high on most governments’ priority list.
But actress Michelle Yeoh, global ambassador for the recently-launched Safe Steps road safety campaign, said there is no excuse for government leaders not to prioritize this because the solutions to keep streets safe are often not too difficult.
“A lot of the time, when you go to the government and say: This is very bad. You need to do something, but I have no answers for you. Then it’s very easy for the government to say, ‘I’ll deal with that later.’ But now, when we go to the government, we have the vaccines,” Yeoh said in an interview with Philippine media.
The “vaccines” Yeoh referred to are the simple steps that the newly-launched campaign is endorsing. Through short, one-minute educational videos, the Safe Steps campaign aims to remind motorists and pedestrians about basic road safety guidelines, such as wearing seatbelts and keeping under the speed limit.
The campaign, a joint initiative of Prudence Foundation, Federation Internationale de L’Automobile, and National Geographic Channel, was launched in the Malaysian capital on February 13.
Public service announcements are set to air in over 80 million households in 24 countries across Asia to raise awareness on road accidents – the leading cause of death among young people in the world – and provide information on what people can do to bring down the number of road deaths.
Every year, about 1.25 million people die from road accidents every year, according to the World Health Organization. An estimated 700,000 people are killed in Asia alone.
Yeoh, who has been campaigning for road safety since 2008, said governments – especially in developing countries – can adopt and adapt road safety strategies that have already been tried and tested in other nations.
“We need to learn from those who already learned from their mistakes and corrected them….When you have all these things in place, you have better roads,” she said.
Governments, for instance, can do simple things such as putting up proper pedestrian crossings to protect schoolchildren who cross the road. These forms of interventions are neither too complicated nor expensive.
“There are many things [that can be done], and that is why your governments should not turn us away. They don’t need to turn us away because we only make a healthier nation,” she added.
The organizers of the Safe Steps campaign aren’t preaching a new message – and they’re aware of it. But they added that reminders need to be repeated again and again, with the hope that enough repetition will make people think twice before getting behind the wheel and hitting the road.
“These actions don’t cost you anything. They are there to protect you,” Yeoh said.
She pointed out that most people don’t put on their seatbelts because they’re uncomfortable, forgetting the fact that they are there for the driver’s protection.
Motorists also think that it’s unlikely for them to get involved in a car accident.
“Crashes can happen to you at any time. Once you’re on the road, you’re exposed to that. And don’t think, ‘It never happens to me.’ That is the wrong way of thinking. You have to protect yourself,” she said.
Jean Todt, special envoy for road safety of the United Nations Secretary General, added that the campaign hinges on trying to change people’s mindset about safety guidelines.
“You have to change the mentality of people. Because people think that it’s against their freedom that you have to put your safety belt,” he said.
Prudence Foundation chairman Donald Kanak also said that the messages of the campaign are applicable throughout the region – even if each Asian country has its own unique road conditions, legal framework, and system of governance.
Referring to a previous Safe Steps campaign which focused on disaster preparedness, Kanak said each ASEAN country is different “from a natural disaster standpoint.”
The Philippines, for instance, is typhoon-prone, while other countries consider earthquakes a more pressing concern.
“From a natural disaster standpoint, each ASEAN country is quite different. But for road safety, the things we’re focusing on is what everybody can do,” Kanak said.
“The roads may be different, but everybody can be aware of driving safely, of wearing a seatbelt, of paying attention as a pedestrian,” he added.