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The voice of the youth in road safety: why we should listen

Photo credit: Mikael Ullén

Louise Cathro

While attending the 3rd Ministerial Conference on Road Safety, in Stockholm, Sweden on 19-20 February 2020, I noticed a large contingent of young people wearing brightly coloured hoodies among the delegates.

A colleague and I were seated and chatting in the main arena on the conference’s first day, waiting for the next plenary session to start when we were approached by an engaging young woman who told us that she would be speaking in one of the parallel sessions the next day and asked us to attend. As it happened, it was a parallel session I had marked on my schedule so I assured her that I would be there. We chatted a bit and she told us she was from Uganda and worked for a refugee charity in Kampala.

The next day, I attended the parallel session on Protecting Children and Adolescents hosted by the FIA Foundation.  We know that road traffic crashes are the leading killer of children and young people. This session discussed how road safety should be integrated into a broader agenda for children and adolescents and how to strengthen the response in order to achieve Sustainable Development Goals 3, 10 and 13 on good health and well-being, reduced inequalities and climate action.

On the panel was Oliva Nalwadda, the young woman who had approached us the previous day. She was representing the World Youth Assembly for Road Safety, bringing the thoughts and voice of young people to the discussion. She spoke passionately about why young people’s voices should be heard by policy-makers and others in the political leadership. In 2019, the share of young people aged 15 to 24 years made up 1.2 billion or 16% of the total global population. According to the United Nations, this is expected to increase to peak at nearly 1.4 billion around 2065, with the youth population in the poorest countries projected to increase by 62% by 2050.

Oliva Nalwadda, representative of the World Youth Assembly for Road Safety, explains why we should listen to the youth to improve road safety.

When I first met Oliva, I thought about myself at her age (admittedly this would have been in the very late 1980s) and marvelled at the wonderful opportunity she had in Stockholm to speak for her generation and have her voice heard in such a prominent forum. Indeed, all the youth activists I saw at the conference called out passionately for their voice to not just be heard but acted upon when it comes to improving road safety for their generation.

Oliva asked – quite rightly – who the political leadership is listening to when policy is being formulated, who is advising them and if any of those people represent the youth.

We know that the voice of young people is not as well represented in political circles as they should be. There needs to be recognition that they have their own ideas about the world they want to live in in the future.

If we are not listening to them now, how will the world that they seek materialise?