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Follow the Data Podcast: Vehicle Safety – Improving Standards for All Consumers

Many low- and middle-income countries have little or no regulatory standards for vehicles.

For example, in the United States all cars must have seat-belts and airbags, which together reduce the risk of death by 61%. But in many countries where we work, car manufacturers are not required to install seat-belts or airbags, leaving the passengers at higher risk for death and injury.

That’s why the Bloomberg Philanthropies Initiative for Global Road Safety has dedicated $259 million over 12 years to implement interventions that have been proven to reduce road traffic fatalities and injuries in low- and middle-income countries.

In 2015 we began implementing evidence-based interventions in our global network of ten cities, strengthening road safety legislation in five targeted countries, and crash testing new vehicles in four world regions.

Becky Bavinger of the Bloomberg Philanthropies Public Health team spoke to two partners about vehicle safety. They discuss the importance of raising awareness, consumer demand, and putting pressure on the industry. Valentina Ochoa is the Executive Director of Refleacciona con Responsabilidad, an organization working to improve public space in Mexico. Alejandro “Alex” Furas is the Secretary General of the Latin New Car Assessment Programme, which works to advance vehicle safety in Latin America by advocating for more government regulation, testing vehicles new to the market, and publishing crash tests results.

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We hope you enjoy this episode. Follow us on Twitter @BloombergDotOrg for information about our next episode. Until then, keep following the data!


KATHERINE OLIVER: Welcome to Follow the Data, I’m your host, Katherine Oliver.

Vehicle standards vary by market, and in some cases, vehicles are manufactured in countries with standards far lower than the destination markets. The result is a safety double standard, where many low- and middle- income counties do not make or import safe cars for their own residents.

For example, in the United States all cars must pass strict crash tests and come equipped with features like seat-belts and anti-skidding technology. Seat-belts alone have saved 255,000 lives in the United States since 1975. However, in many countries where we work, car manufacturers are not required to install these safety features or pass any crash tests, leaving the passengers at higher risk for death and injury.

Becky Bavinger of the Bloomberg Philanthropies Public Health team spoke to two partners about vehicle safety. They discuss the importance of raising awareness, consumer demand, and putting pressure on the industry.

Valentina Ochoa is the Executive Director of Refleacciona con Responsabilidad, an organization working to improve public space in Mexico.

Alejandro “Alex” Furas is the Secretary General of the Latin New Car Assessment Programme, which works to advance vehicle safety in Latin America by advocating for more government regulation, testing vehicles new to the market, and publishing crash tests results. Listen to their conversation now.

BECKY BAVINGER: Thank you so much for joining us today, Valentina and Alex. I’d like to start by asking, Alex, if you could describe for us what vehicle safety is all about.

ALEJANDRO “ALEX” FURAS:  What we do is we focus on trying to save lives – point one. More or less we have 1.3 million people being killed every year in car crashes and more or less around 50 million people being injured in those car crashes. What we do in vehicle safety is try to prevent those people being killed and injured. Point one is trying to make a safe environment inside the car when a crash is happening. Does this actually work? We call this passive safety. Airbags, seatbelt, structure. That’s the first thing we do. It’s very important because every aspect of safety that is improved, we are preventing injuries and we are preventing also people being killed, and we also need to understand that critical injuries is something that is carried along the lifetime and sometimes we don’t pay attention to that and we just focus on lives being lost in the car crashes. We can also work on preventing those crashes. Vehicle safety is trying to prevent that people actually crash, so there are new technologies that people actually, autonomous emergency systems that prevent the car crashing. We also have systems which are much more available, probably from the last 20 years, like electronic stability control, so these technologies are helping the cars not to crash.

BAVINGER: Can you tell us what your organization, the Latin New Car Assessment Programme, does specifically to advance these vehicle safety technologies in Latin America?

FURAS:  Our main goal is point one trying to accelerate the change in vehicle regulations in terms of safety in Latin American. We still have a very delayed governmental regulation scheme. From what we’re doing showing results and showing how good or bad those cars perform under certain crash conditions. We share this with consumers. We give star ratings which is easy way to read. If it’s a five star car, it’s very safe, zero star car, it’s not very safe, where basically there’s a risk of life-threatening injuries. So given that information, consumers are more aware that when they go to buy a new car, and that is accelerating the markets in changing to safer cars.

What we expect is our governments do catch up somehow to the 20 years difference they have with the U.S. and Europe in terms of vehicle regulations, unfortunately, and we hope that accelerating the consumers’ demand for safer cars is going to make for governments much easier to speed up the process in regulations.

BAVINGER:  In Mexico in particular, I know that one organization is working with the results that are produced by Latin New Car Assessment Programme to educate consumers. But Valentina, your organization, Refleacciona, is going further than that and not just educating consumers, but really pushing the car manufacturers and the governments to regulate, can you tell us a bit more about what your organization is doing and what a coalition of grantees from Bloomberg Philanthropies is doing down in Mexico?

VALENTINA OCHOA: So, we’re actually four organizations that are working towards vehicle safety in Mexico and each one of our organizations has its own strengths and is looking forward to implement these UN recommendations or similar standards for the Mexican market, so we raise awareness through mass media campaigns in order to get consumers to know which cars comply with the safety recommendations, but we also push within the government for the federal Mexican regulations to implement and have those safety features, because in Mexico 80 percent of the cars that are made are destined to foreign markets, like the U.S. markets, and those cars do comply with the strict safety standards, but the cars that stay for the Mexican market do not have those safety features, so this means that there is the technology to produce safe cars, but they are choosing not to implement for the Mexican market, so we’re having a double standard in the car industry.

BAVINGER: That’s really frustrating that there’s this double standard and that cars that are made in Mexico in the same manufacturing plant can be destined for U.S. and meet all these international regulations and the ones that are staying in Mexico for the Mexican consumers don’t.

So, for someone who’s not really familiar with this work, what’s preventing the car companies from installing these safety features, and what’s preventing the governments from regulating on this?

FURAS: I will stick to the second part of the question. Governments, when Latin NCAP started, and together with Refleacciona and El Poder de Consumidor Mexico, as well, we started to inform governments. Governments took action and they, started to work on new regulations. What happened next was that the manufacturers started to lobby against the regulations in many ways.

They started to put a lot of pressure on the governments to prevent governments from bringing new regulations in a normal path, as I mentioned we are talking about, 20 year gap in terms of vehicle safety between the U.S. for example and Europe and Latin America, especially Mexico is a good example. So if we put it in numbers, one airbag costs $50 less, and with one airbag, you can save a life. If you have a two airbag set in a car with one firing system probably is $150 cost for the manufacturer.

It’s clearly insignificant as what you can do with these devices and it’s amazing that the industry is still resisting and having this double standard to offer in Latin American markets some things that probably will be illegal to sell somewhere else in the world, where those manufacturers, most of them are based. Probably from our perspective, it’s a matter of too much pressure from the industry into the governments and probably a lack of capacity from governments, technical capacity, and also the lack of human resources, in the government to confront, discuss with the manufacturers is one of the things. But we understand that from the consumer perspective, informing governments and trying to involve them, encourage them to join the discussions with us and talk to us.

We do have very active and very open discussions with the governments, all governments in Latin America, so that’s very good. We think that this is a very good starting point for governments to be part of this dynamic with the consumers and the markets and they’re regulating a little bit later in time. We think Latin Americans, we should not pay extra for basic safety that is somewhere else. We are aiming to democratize safety. That’s the main goal.

The other thing we are proposing manufacturers, basically we’re challenging them to offer the same safety level as in the standard version in Latin America than what they do offer in the standard version of the same model somewhere else in the world.

OCHOA: I will have to totally agree with Alejandro because we need a more active role from the government in order to protect Mexican consumers. The double standard is unacceptable. We understand that the car industry is a very important part of the Mexican economy and the industry has made very large efforts in order to highlight that, but what the government is missing is that not having those safety car standards is also costing a lot of money, a lot of money and a lot of lives that are being paid by the Mexican consumers. So, it’s important for the government to separate its regulations from the industry. The industry cannot keep on regulating itself if we want to protect Mexican lives.

BAVINGER: Speaking of the economic benefit, and Alex, you alluded earlier to the potential for lives saved and prevention of injuries, is there any research being done on that? Is there any evidence that you can show governments on those issues and why it’s so important to implement these regulations to save lives and to see that economic benefit?

FUAS:  It was published in 2016 the TRL reports, shocking evidence that supposedly at that point in time, 2016, all the governments would adopt these basic safety regulations. From that point until 2030, it’s estimated that we can save around 40,000 lives and 400,000 people being injured, seriously injured. The amount of money that is estimated that can be saved in that period of time, is at least, $140 billion. So it’s not just the amount of lives that can be saved, it’s also the money that can be saved by governments if they implement regulations right now towards 2030.

BAVINGER: The Transport Research Laboratory is an independent research organization based in the U.K. that promotes research on vehicle safety around the world. And was that research done for all of Latin America or just a subset of countries?

FURAS: It was not for the whole region, so that’s why we say at least what is expected. It was done just for the biggest markets in the region. We think that if we expand this to other regions and other parts of the continent the benefits are going to be bigger than this, larger than this.

BAVINGER: I’d like to leave hopefully on a positive note: are there any examples, either from

Mexico, from Latin America or anywhere else around the world where you’re seeing some progress in vehicle standards?

You’re either seeing car manufacturers taking the initiative to apply standards when they don’t need to or you’re seeing governments starting to regulate and enforce these vehicle standards, or perhaps you’re seeing consumers starting to make decisions based on the safety features available in cars. Can you talk about progress being made?

FURAS: Absolutely, the positive side, there is a lot to say on the positive side. Industry is reacting. Industry, at least in Latin America, its coming to Latin NCAP and asking us what’s going to come up next in the new protocols because they are preparing the new platforms in order to match let’s say medium to high safety specs and safety performances in the market.

Governments are also regulating, probably not at the speed that we are expecting, but what we are noticing is that some governments are also watching what we’re doing, in terms of regulations and requirements for Latin NCAP and that’s a good way for them to sense what’s the industry doing in the next few years and therefore they can plan what’s going to come up next in regulations. That’s absolutely positive. So there is momentum that it’s starting to work in Latin America. The same we have seen in India. Less than four years since we started testing and there are already manufacturers are delivering cars with five stars and already aiming to five stars, even though we don’t have yet a five-star car in the region.

[Since the recording of this episode, the first five star car was announced in India.]

In Latin America we are at a critical point because it’s all about sustainability of what we’re doing. If at some point we stop doing what we’re doing, clearly all the progress we have seen, it’s because of consumer information, consumer awareness and Latin NCAP has been doing and what actually Refleacciona, together with other consumer organizations in Mexico have been doing. If this stops at any time, we unfortunately think that probably things can go backwards.

We need to make sure that this is going to be in a more solid ground in the next years. And one of the proposals we had for governments is to try to mandate labels. Star rating label for safety levels in cars, and this is one key thing that can, as it happened in the U.S. with the Monroney label, can push the consumer to demand for more safety or better safety and that is going to push also industry to improve that. We have seen that industry is somehow resisting this kind of strategy because they know it is effective, it has been effective in the U.S. and in Europe, and if we take a look at the low rates in the U.S. and Europe, the consequence of this low rate, low amount of people being killed and injured, it’s directly explained by the four- and five-star cars that you have in most of the cars you have on the road. It’s not because of basic regulations. The cars in market in the U.S. and Europe are way above and way beyond regulation and regulatory requirements, so we want to replicate the same effect in Latin America.

We need to take action. We need to learn from that experience, and I think manufacturers do know what’s coming up, if the pressure from the consumer is becoming more and more serious and deeper, and I can also predict from our side that it will be more good news coming up in the next few months and weeks of cars and manufacturers improving. I think it’s contagious so we expect all the other manufacturers to follow up in the region, as well.

OCHOA: I think that also this is a rising subject within the population. With our latest campaign, we have reached over 25 million people that are now aware of vehicle safety. I think that’s what the work that Latin NCAP keeps on doing is very important to keep on building this awareness because people are beginning to ask which car they can buy doing pressure to the industry, and we have already seen the good results that the Latin NCAP test make in changing or improving the regulations, as Alejandro was saying. We have the Tsuru issue, in which the Tsuru can keep on selling for few years but after the announcement of the car to car crash that was going to take place, Nissan decide to stop producing that car before the date that they estimated. So, it’s a matter of keep on doing the work that Latin NCAP is doing and keep on sharing the results with the population to demand better cars for the Mexican consumers.

BAVINGER: That’s great. Well your work is so tremendously important, and thank you so much for spending some time with us today. We at Bloomberg Philanthropies are really privileged to work with each of you and your organizations to promote vehicle safety and like Alex said, to save lives, so thank you.

OLIVER: We hope you enjoyed this episode of Follow the Data. Many thanks to Valentina Ochoa and Alejandro Furas for joining us.

If you haven’t already, be sure to subscribe to Follow the Data podcast. This episode was produced by Electra Colevas, Ivy Li, Jean Weinberg, and Becky Bavinger, music by Mark Piro – special thanks to David Sucherman.

As our founder Mike Bloomberg says, if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. So until next time, keep following the data. I’m Katherine Oliver, thanks for listening.