Will a UN ministerial conference on global road safety change anything? How does getting a bunch of people together in a room in Moscow make a difference to road safety in Africa or Asia?
The first thing a ministerial conference will do is to provide profile and visibility for the issue, and for the millions of people being killed and injured on the roads each year. Global road safety has a very low profile, despite killing on the scale of Malaria or Tuberculosis, because politicians aren't seeing a big picture. Road crashes are often accepted as random events, acts of fate, or something that can be kept manageable with a little budget allocation and a few traffic police. The bigger picture, in terms of the impact on development and health, is rarely recognised. The cost benefits of putting in place driver training, safe road infrastructure, vehicle design standards and strong enforcement are clear, but not always well communicated.
A ministerial conference can begin to address this problem on two levels - increasing the political profile and raising the demand that something be done, and establishing and improving links between countries which have built up knowledge and capacity and countries that need this advice and assistance. Every major issue - HIV/AIDS, climate change, malaria, children's rights - has needed global meetings of governments to build momentum and get things moving - global road safety needs this too.