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Ambassador Power on Global Road Safety

10 April 2014

United States Mission to the United Nations
Samantha Power
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations
New York, NY
April 10, 2014

Remarks by Ambassador Samantha Power, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, at a General Assembly Session on Improving Global Road Safety


Mr. President, colleagues, the United States is pleased to cosponsor and urge the adoption of this comprehensive resolution on road safety.

We do so because motor vehicle accidents kill more than 1.2 million people every year and because many of these deaths could be prevented through improvements in road design, traffic management, safety equipment, and emergency response.

Most important, however, is driver behavior. Excessive speed and a failure to obey traffic rules are both killers. The role of alcohol in traffic fatalities is also well documented and should never be understated. In recent years, however, we have faced a new and deadly threat in the form of driving while texting or talking on the phone. Research shows that cell phone users are over 5 times more likely to get in an accident than undistracted drivers. And that texting while driving can delay a driver’s reactions as much as a 0.08 blood-alcohol level, the same as a drunk driver. Already, in the United States, more teenagers are killed while texting than because they have been drinking. But the problem is neither confined to teenagers nor to highly-industrialized countries; it is spreading as fast as technology.

Worldwide, six out of seven people have access to cell phones and more than a billion cars are on the road. In crowded conditions, with narrow roads and poor infrastructure, bicyclists and pedestrians are at particular risk. Too many drivers simply don’t understand the danger of taking their eyes, even briefly, from the road. And while drinking is episodic, the use of hand-held devices is chronic. No one should die – or kill – because of a text message.

That is a lesson we are starting to learn. Earlier this week, the state of Maryland, here in the United States, enacted stricter penalties for drivers who cause an accident while texting or talking on a cell phone. The new law was named for Jake Owen, a five year old who never turned six because, three years ago, a distracted driver ploughed into his family’s car. In 2010, the Secretary General prohibited UN employees from texting while behind the wheel. President Obama had adopted a comparable standard for U.S. employees. Globally, more than 70 countries have approved laws that restrict driver use of hand-held devices. We must build on this momentum and ensure that these laws are enforced.

A motor vehicle is a source of transportation, but it is also a potential weapon. Compared to other drivers, a distracted driver is at least four times as likely to be involved in a crash and when a driver is texting, the likelihood of an accident rises by a factor of twenty. That is pure recklessness, and must be stopped.

Two years ago, 18-year-old Taylor Sauer was heading home after dropping a friend off at college. Texting constantly, she was traveling 88 miles an hour when she ran her car into a semi-trailer. Immediately prior to her death, she sent the following message to a friend: “I can’t discuss this matter now. Driving and Facebooking is not safe. Ha ha.”

My colleagues; traffic safety, in all its dimensions, is a deadly serious business. There are many lessons to be learned about how to minimize the danger. The challenge for us all – and the imperative embodied in the Resolution we consider today – is to be sure that these lessons are learned before, not after, it is too late.

Thank you.