Mid-July is upon us again. Once more, instead of the flush of summer pleasure, my heart is filled with sadness.
My son, Aron, born on July 18, 1969, died in a bus crash on the Bodrum-İzmir highway on May 3, 1995, before he could celebrate his 26th birthday. Aron did not die alone. Twenty-three other beautiful lives were shattered along with his in that single crash. Among them was a Turkish bride-to-be whose wedding invitations were scattered among the wreckage, along with the hopes and dreams of all of the victims.
Road crashes are a worldwide scourge, killing over a million across the globe each year and injuring an additional 50 million. Projections indicate that the death toll will escalate dramatically in the coming years unless action is taken. Alarmed by these projections, the UN declared 2011-2020 the Decade of Action for Global Road Safety and urged countries to institute and enforce proven life-saving interventions. Turkey was among the 100 co-sponsors of this resolution.
Much progress has been made in Turkey since my son and his fellow passengers perished. Turkish government officials announced during the Third National Road Traffic Safety Symposium and Exhibition held from May 16-18 in Ankara that there had been an 8 percent drop in road fatalities in the last three years. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan recently convened the Road Safety High Commission, where key road safety policies and strategies were prioritized. Turkey has also developed a Decade of Action Road Safety Plan, which aims to reduce traffic fatalities by 50 percent by 2020. This plan is now awaiting the signature of Prime Minister Erdoğan. Turkish political leaders and concerned citizens are taking concrete measures to combat road deaths and have worked hard and achieved progress. The Turkish government -- under the leadership of Prime Erdoğan, President Abdullah Gül (who led a successful three-year campaign to mobilize the public and private sectors on traffic safety issues) and Parliament -- is to be congratulated.
A consortium of Turkish and international partners, led by the Turkish Ministry of Health and the Interior Ministry and coordinated by the World Health Organization, has been working with Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Bloomberg Global Road Safety Program to reduce traffic-related deaths and injuries in Turkey. The project focuses on increased seatbelt use and speed control. The Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT), the road safety organization I founded following the death of my son, is proud to be a member of this consortium.
The United States Embassy in Ankara has taken a proactive role in road safety in Turkey for many years, lending its resources and expertise to the cause. Partnering with US and Turkish civil society, the embassy has initiated activities, coordinated programs, sponsored road safety experts, facilitated key meetings with Turkish government officials and participated in Road Safety Week and other high-profile events that raise awareness of the problems of and solutions to the road crash crisis.
Much remains to be done. About 10,000 people die annually on Turkish roads. While seatbelt use is mandated by law, compliance rates are still relatively low. Recent studies indicate that far less than 50 percent of intra-city drivers in Ankara wear seatbelts, and the rate is even lower in other cities. Moreover, drivers of commercial vehicles transporting passengers in urban areas and passengers in certain classes of commercial minibuses are among those exempt from the seatbelt law. Child safety seats are also mandated by law, yet only 29 percent of children in Ankara are put in child safety seats.
Speed continues to kill and injure many on Turkish roads. As a mother devoted to improving this situation in Turkey and worldwide, it is my deepest hope that in the future, mothers in Turkey may always be able to celebrate, not commemorate, their children’s birthdays.
*Rochelle Sobel is the founder and president of the Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT), Rockville, Maryland, US. [email protected]