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Follow the Data Podcast: Buying A Car – A Road Safety Mission

Jessica Truong at 2018 Global Road Safety Meeting at 731
Jessica Truong at 2018 Global Road Safety Meeting at 731

Over 90% of the 1.35 million people killed in road traffic injuries every year are in low- and middle- income countries. Road traffic crashes are the eighth leading cause of death and are the leading killer of people ages 5 and 29.

Bloomberg Philanthropies Initiative for Global Road Safety concentrates investments to make the greatest impact in countries where manufacturers send cars without basic safety features, including seat belts, airbags or ABS breaking.

Becky Bavinger of the Bloomberg Philanthropies Public Health team and Jessica Truong, Vice President of Programs and Asia Pacific Coordinator for the Global New Car Assessment Program (Global NCAP) spoke about the need for improved road safety and vehicle safety.

They discuss the strategy for improving road safety across the world, including providing consumers with crash test results, pushing for legislation to regulate manufacturers and the work that remains in low- middle- and high-income countries.

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

Each year, more than 1.35 million people die and up to 50 million are seriously injured in road traffic crashes. Many of these deaths and injuries are preventable. The Bloomberg Philanthropies Initiative for Global Road Safety works to implement proven interventions to reduce road traffic fatalities and injuries in low- and middle-income countries.

One of these interventions is improving vehicle safety standards. Currently, 80% of countries sell cars that fail to meet the minimum UN vehicle safety standards, including basic safety features like seat-belts. Our partners at the Global New Car Assessment Program, known as Global NCAP, use vehicle crash test results to advocate for national vehicle safety standards, raise consumer awareness, and hold car companies accountable for selling safer cars.

Becky Bavinger, of Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Public Health team and Jessica Truong, Vice President of Programs and Asia Pacific Region Coordinator for the Global New Car Assessment Program, spoke about their work to improve vehicle safety standards in emerging markets.

Listen now.

BECKY BAVINGER: Hi, thank you so much for coming.  My name is Becky Bavinger and I work on the Public Health Team, specifically on road safety, which we’re talking about today. Broadly, when we’re talking about road safety, it’s our second largest public health investment, because 1.35 million people every year are killed by road traffic injuries.  And most of those, over 90%, are in low- and middle-income countries.  That’s why our investment is focused in low- and middle-income countries.

Overall, it’s the eighth leading cause of death, and it’s the number one cause of death for people ages 5 to 29.  This is a huge investment for us, because the problem is so big.  Our strategy since 2007 has been to work at changing national policies, so things like requiring that people wear their seatbelts. A lot of countries don’t have laws like that, so we’re trying to help countries pass evidence-based laws that meet WHO recommendations.

And then in 2015, we re-strategized and took a city focus, because we know that, even if we can pass really good laws, we need cities to actually implement them.  We’ve been supporting 10 cities since 2015 across the world to implement evidence-based mass media campaigns, train up police forces in best practice police enforcement, collect data so that they can use their limited resources wisely, and also measure the impact.

Our third component, which we added in 2015, is vehicle safety.  A third of that 1.35 million deaths a year are car occupants.  We could have a real impact in reducing deaths around the world if we just bring up the safety of cars to protect the car occupants.

Today, we’re really focused on vehicle safety.  Why are we doing this, why is it important. If you’re buying a new car in the US, you go to a showroom, there’s a dealer.  You have this fun negotiation with him or her.  And there’s always a label on the car that gives you the specifications of what’s included in that specific car.  The safety features, the radio, etc.  That does not exist in most countries, so you don’t even know what the safety features are, and which are lacking in the car that you’re buying.  Also, we do have standards that the government regulates, so you know at a minimum you’re getting some of these safety features.  We know that it’s important to at least inform consumers.  And that’s why Jess Truong is going to talk about the work of Global New Car Assessment Program, which is funding the crash testing of those cars in markets where there’s no government program to crash test them.

I want to give most of the time to Jess Truong.  She is from the Global New Car Assessment Program (Global NCAP).  She’s based in London but travels all around.  We’re currently funding Global NCAP to work in four market regions, Latin America, Southeast Asia, India, and South Africa.  And she’s going to talk globally about what the work is, why it’s important, and then delve into India.

JESSICA TRUONG:  Thanks for the opportunity to come talk to you about a topic that is really close to my heart. This morning I want to talk about other work that Bloomberg has very generously funded Global NCAP to do.

If you think about road safety, many people often think about educating people, getting them to wear their seatbelts, not drink and drive, not speed.  And while that education is really important, vehicle safety has a much bigger role to play. Once a car is designed safely and has got the right vehicle safety technologies, the safety benefits of that car will continue to accrue for the rest of its life.  Not just for the person that bought it, but the person that will drive it after, for the family members that might purchase your car or borrow your car.

There’s been lots of research done to show the impact of vehicle safety. Every single year we produced more than 90 million new cars. For every single one of those cars that are not safe, that danger is going to lurk around for the next 30 years.  Once again, not just for the person that is buying it at that particular time.  Most people keep their cars for about three years, five years. And more importantly, a lot of these new cars then get exported into low/middle-income countries.  As Becky highlighted, 90% of the world fatalities occur in these low/middle-income regions.  More and more people are getting access to cars. When you’re flooding these markets with unsafe vehicles, you can see why road trauma is such a big issue.

Global NCAP stands for Global New Car Assessment Program.  We are a UK-based charity that is concerned about advocating for better vehicle safety all around the world, not just in high-income countries.  We are a platform for new car assessment programs from around the world to be able to share information, exchange knowledge, and push for safety in every region.  There are currently nine new car assessment programs that are littered around the world.

The only way you can actually tell whether a car is safe is to see whether it passes regulation, or if there’s an independent consumer program like an NCAP crash testing it and providing that information to consumers.  And that’s why NCAPs exist, because we know that not every single car that is produced is safe.  We need to be able to provide that point of information to consumers when they go buy their car.

Our aim is to eliminate zero-star cars from around the world and with the support of Bloomberg we’re very close to being able to achieve that. We use what we call vehicle safety-winning formula to actually accelerate vehicle safety developments around the world.  That formula consists of government regulation.  Pushing governments to actually implement the safest regulations so that car manufacturers have no choice but to produce cars that meet those regulations and actually provide a basic level of safety. And then on the flip side, we’ve also got consumer demand, getting consumers to demand from manufacturers safer vehicles.  Because if there are two things that manufactures respond to, it’s what the governments put in place and where the money’s coming from, consumers.

If we can get everyone only buying five-star cars, we can see the demand from the consumers and manufacturers very quickly responding to that.

Why do we need regulations? This is the key focus of the work that we do with Bloomberg.  We have UN standards for vehicle safety. These UN regulations, they’re your bread and butter.  They’ve been around for 30, 40 years.  They’ve been implemented by high-income countries for the last 30 years.  In the EU, since the introduction of these regulations, we have seen a significant drop in the number of fatalities. Yet, out of the 103 UN member states, only 40 have fully implemented all eight of these top priorities, and they are mainly in the high-income region.

The top eight that we would consider the top priority, that every single country should have — very simple things: seatbelts, seatbelt anchorages, front and side protection, and then some more new innovations.  I say new, they’ve still been around for about 20 years: electronic stability control, motorcycle ABS, and pedestrian protection.  We’re not just about protecting people inside the car, it’s also the vulnerable road-users outside of the car that we need to be concerned about.

I mean, sad to say, the U.S. and Australia, where I’m originally from, even they don’t have the full eight regulations in place. That’s because the U.S. don’t currently have motorcycle ABS or pedestrian protection in place. And for a high-come country there really is no excuse for not having all of them fully implemented.  And I have to stress, even having all of these regulations in place does not mean a car is completely safe. It just meets a very basic level of safety.  We’re just trying to even the playing field for all countries.  But we don’t have that, unfortunately, and that’s why we need to push for it.

That’s regulations, and that’s what we do, trying to promote the UN vehicle safety regulations.

But then on the other hand, we’ve also got the other end of the formula, which is consumer demand.  Regulations can often take a long time.  Instead of just waiting for governments to introduce the right legislation, we work on the other side, where their money is coming from. That’s where we provide independent crash testing information so they can make an informed choice when they go buy that car.

And we push for them to only buy five-start cars where possible.  And the reason being, there’s been lots of studies done, a five-star car can greatly reduce your risk of sustaining a life-changing injury, or even death.  A five-star compared to a two-star car, you’re looking at about a 25% reduction in death.  And for every single increase in one star, you’re getting that same benefit, a 25% increase in protection.  We advocate, especially for fleet managers, to only purchase five-star cars.

Safe cars are not expensive.  We know that, because in every single region of the world there are safe, affordable five-star cars available for sale.  There’s no reason why anyone walking into a showroom today in any region of the world, needs to compromise on safety.  You often hear price being an important element when manufactures lobby governments to say, well, “It’s going to cost us, so much money to be able to meet regulations.  They’ll be too expensive for consumers.”  I have to say, that’s not true.  We know that.

For them to be able to strengthen the cabin of the car to make it have structural integrity, and to put in a couple of airbags. We’re talking about $200, $200 for a life, $200 for health.  It’s not a lot.  Given that a lot of these technologies have been in the high-income countries for what, 20, 30 years, they have more than recouped that cost.  There’s no reason why they can’t make it available in low/middle-income countries.

Pressure is obviously something that manufacturers respond to, and with the help of Bloomberg Philanthropies, we’ve been able to fund work undertaken in Latin America, in Asia, as well as two pilot programs in India and Africa.

And now I wanted to turn my focus on to the evolution of the Safer Cars for India Program, which we could not have done without Bloomberg’s support. And I want to show you what a crash testing program, what consumer demand, and what pressure from an NGO can actually do to change the face of vehicle safety in a region, in a country.

When we first launched Safer Cars for India in 2014, vehicle safety was unheard of in the country.  Not many people were talking about it.  People just assumed if they were buying a car it’s safe.  And even in high-income countries most people assume that.  But in India we know that there are no regulations.  There were no regulations when we started. No basic standards.  You can buy a car, it could be zero-star, it could be five-star, it could be four-star.  We didn’t know until we crash tested it.

What we did was we started a pilot program.  We selected five of the top-selling vehicles in the country.  Together, those five cars represented about 20% of all new car sales in India at the time.  They were popular and people were buying them.  We crash tested them and unfortunately, every single one of them received a zero-star rating, zero. that was the beginning of the conversation in India where consumers were reacting.  They were thinking, “Oh my goodness, I had no idea that, cars could be like that.”  We had a lot of strong reactions from both the media and the manufacturers.  While the results were shocking, it was the start of an important conversation that we needed to have in India.

It put a lot of pressure on manufacturers to actually do the right thing.  When we first launched, one of the first five vehicles that we tested was the VW Polo. And VW actually reacted very, very quickly, as soon as those results were launched.  They quickly withdrew the zero-star, no air-bag version of the Polo from the market, and quickly produced a version with two airbags.  They resubmitted it for testing and it got a four star.  And that’s how quickly manufacturers can respond if they want to, if they’re motivated.

That’s what consumer demand and consumer pressure can actually do for a manufacturer.  You can push them to provide, voluntarily, safer vehicles ahead of any regulations that might be put in place for a country by government.  Since the inception of the program about five years ago, we’ve seen huge progress in India, much faster than anything we’ve seen in any of the other world regions we’ve worked in.

It’s the same story every time we start a new NCAP, it’s the same evolution. Not only have we had wins on the consumer side, we’ve also had great wins on the legislative side.  We’ve seen a number of new legislations implemented, or to be implemented in India in the next few years. From having absolutely no regulations in place five years ago, to the Indian government actually announcing that front and side protection needs to be available for all new cars that are being sold in India as of October this year.

They’ve also gone a step further and mandated things like motorcycle ABS, pedestrian protection.  Once all these regulations are in place, by the end of 2020, they will have more advanced standards in place compared to the US. And there’s no reason why the U.S. can’t follow suit.  If a country like India can actually change over a five-year period, we know that we can do it in other regions of the world as well.

I know in the U.S. and high-income countries there is a lot of talk about autonomous vehicles. Maybe we don’t need to worry about vehicle safety, because once you take the person out of the equitation, things will be safe.  But AV’s take time as well.  The Institute of Highway Safety did an estimate.  From the time a legislation comes into place for a technology or a standard, it takes 30 years before 95% of the fleet had them in place.  So even if we start legislating now it will still take another 30 years.

That doesn’t mean that lives aren’t being saved right now. And that’s why we can’t afford to delay when we talk about vehicle safety.  We need them implemented now.  And while AV’s are fantastic, we’ve got technologies that the future AV needs.  We need autonomous emergency breaking.  We need speed alert systems.  These technologies are here and now.  If we legislate for them, many lives can be saved over the next 10 years, and that’s something for the U.S. to consider as well.  We certainly can’t do the work that we do without generous funding support from Bloomberg and our other donors.

And thank you for the opportunity for me to share something that’s so close to my heart.

BAVINGER:  Thanks to Jess, go vehicle safety.

OLIVER: We hope you enjoyed this episode of Follow the Data.

Many thanks to Becky Bavinger and Jessica Truong for joining us. If you haven’t already, be sure to subscribe to Follow the Data podcast.

This episode was produced by Electra Colevas, Jean Weinberg and Ivy Li, music by Mark Piro.

Special thanks to Eric Sheppard and Tim Herro.

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.