FIA President Jean Todt has signalled a new approach to the media, by writing a letter to the Huffington Post, the American online news aggregator and blog, in an effort to get more people to understand that road safety is a pandemic, and pointing out that if 1.3 million people were dying each year from a disease, there would be massive global coverage, panic and huge efforts to solve the problem. This is a fair point.
Todt goes on to point out that “the plague” of road accident deaths has a known cure, which makes the continuing losses each year even harder to stomach. He says that despite this, the United Nations’s Decade of Action for Road Safety, the goal of which is to save five million lives on the world’s roads by 2020, is in danger of missing its targets and that there must be further efforts to get more governments to adopt and to police global standards relating to road safety: so that vehicles are built to the correct standards, roads made safer, signage improved and traffic rules obeyed. He also says that there is “urgent need” to increase funding for road safety and to get the private sector to play a bigger role.
The letter to the Huffington Post comes as part of the plans Todt has to create “a panel of experts” to find ways to generate more funding for road safety.
While it is hard to argue against anything that will reduce the number of road deaths in the world, there remains the question of whether this is work that the FIA should be doing, or whether it is best to let other organisations deal with the problem. The aims of the FIA are laid out in the FIA Statutes: to maintain an organisation to uphold the interests of its members in all international matters concerning automobile mobility and tourism and motor sport; to promote freedom of mobility through affordable, safe, and clean motoring, and defending the rights of consumers when travelling; to promote the development of motor sport, improving safety in motor sport, enacting, interpreting and enforcing common rules applicable to the organisation and the fair and equitable running of motor sport competitions; to promote the development of facilities and services of the member clubs; to solve all sporting disputes; and to preserve and conserve all documents and artefacts concerning world motoring in order to retrace its history.
Road safety is not, therefore, one of the fundamental pillars of the federation, while the FIA Foundation was created specifically to address the issue some years ago. It exists “to promote public safety and public health, the protection and preservation of human life and the conservation, protection and improvement of the physical and natural environment”.
While Jean’s approach to the problem is commendable, it does nonetheless beg the question of whether or not he should be doing all this while FIA President. It is a difficult job, and many in the sport feel that it needs more hands-on leadership to ensure that things run effectively and smoothly.
It is not currently clear whether Todt’s panel of experts will be created within the FIA framework or as an independent entity. The Foundation, which is independent of the FIA and therefore not under Todt’s immediate control, is tasked with road safety activities and it was funded by the commercial success of the sport, so one wonders whether there is any real sense in creating a parallel organisation. One could also argue that by proposing an automotive version of UNITAID, which is a global health initiative of the World Health Organisation (WHO) which finances health campaigns by getting governments agree to a levy on airline tickets, that Todt is working against the aims of the FIA.
It is clearly not right to criticise Todt’s desire and energy to help solve the world’s road safety problems, but it is reasonable to ask whether this is something that the FIA should be concentrating on when there are other problems, closer to home, that need the federation’s full attention. It was good to see the FIA and the Formula One group voting together to impose engine cost caps in F1 at the last meeting of the Strategy Group, and we hope that this initiative will not be derailed by vested interests.