Jean Todt. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint
Jean Todt. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint

“We know what needs to be done to make roads safer”: Jean Todt

French motorsport executive Jean Todt, has more than 50 years of experience in motorsport. And there is a strong passion for making roads safer shows, as he discussed the plans that are in place

Jean Todt is remembered for being a part of the all-conquering Scuderia Ferrari Formula 1 team, which won 14 world championships between 1993 and 2008. Today, Todt wears many hats and describes himself as living “a very dense life in the motor industry." He is President of the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), the global motorsports governing body, and is also the Special Envoy for Road Safety to the United Nations Secretary-General.

Todt was in India for the Cine Art: Steer to Safety programme which saw 200 schools participating and 2,00,000 students reaching out to the masses through various digital platforms to bring attention to road safety. We caught up with Todt to understand more about the UN’s Road Safety Fund, the efforts in making roads safer and how to plug the gaps. Edited excerpts from an interview:

Please tell us something about the road safety initiative in India?

Road Safety is a global scourge, and 90% of road accidents occur in low and middle-income countries, including India. Over 15% of the global road fatalities happen in India. And while this is the second largest country in the world (in terms of population), it is simply unacceptable. The FIA has two pillars—one which is regulating motorsport around the world, and the other one is to support road users around the world. In India, we are supported by the Federation of Indian Automobile Associations (FIAA) and partners such as Michelin and PVR. It is about educating children about road safety. As the U.N. Special Envoy for Road Safety, this sort of scenario is unacceptable—and we know what can be done.

Are all road safety initiatives working in cohesion?

There are some individual initiatives for education as well, but the entire thing has to be properly structured globally. If we were to implement, enforce elementary things such as seat safety belts at the front and back, child restraints, helmets on two wheelers, enforce laws against texting and driving as well as drinking and driving—we believe that this would immediately halve the number of crashes on the roads in India.

What are the objectives of the UN Safety Fund?

The FIA and I have initiated a high-level panel for road safety which includes Ratan Tata as one of the members. We want to show the FIA initiatives and also engage others to address the problem. It also goes through the road safety funding, but this has to be hosted by the UN and it is a part of the resolution which was presented by the Russian Mission last week in New York. This was voted positively in favour of, and now it is a priority build one strong action plan for the road safety fund.

There was a need for this. Contrary to billions of dollars of funding every year, and rightly so, for HIV, malaria and tuberculosis, so far, very little funding has been given for road safety. We believe that the creation of this fund is a very important step forward.

How big is the investment and what all does it cover?

The focus is on education. It is also about law enforcement, because there isn’t enough enforcement in India. It is also about road infrastructure and about developing infrastructure around the vehicles themselves. A lot of vehicles do not correspond to the safety regulation. The $56 billion can be invested to take care of education, law enforcement, modern infrastructures. The very top level of the government has to make road safety a priority. We are encouraging what our partners are doing in India. The International Road Federation is also actively engaged, led by chairman Kiran K. Kapila.

Any specific countries that will get the focus initially?

This has to be a global thing, and I hope and will encourage governments of countries to contribute. It has to start with engagement.

Do you believe that motorsports, with their huge fan base globally, can help in increasing road safety awareness?

In motor racing, so much has been done to improve the sport. A lot has been done to improve the safety of the cars, improvements to circuits and equipment, it is absolutely outstanding. A lot of that research can be applied on normal vehicles running on normal roads. Electronic Stability Control (ESC) feature is one example. We all now speak about connected cars, but this has existed in racing for many years now. A lot of technology and improvements around tyres and brakes are now coming from motor racing.

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