The president of the International Automobile Federation (FIA), Jean Todt, met in Havana with Cuban authorities in charge of transport to find ways to reduce accidents on the island’s roads. Todt is in Cuba on Monday in his capacity as United Nations ambassador for road safety.
The expert has launched a Latin American tour that will also include Ecuador, Peru and Colombia. The aim is to help combat traffic accidents, which worldwide cause over a million deaths and 50 million injuries a year, something that Todt calls “a pandemic.” Speaking to Agence France Presse, the FIA president said that “an awareness at the highest level in each country is necessary, so that traffic accidents are placed at the same level as AIDS and Ebola.”
With his Cuban partners, Todt talked about the age of the vehicle fleet, two-thirds of which is made up of American cars from the ’50s or Soviet cars from the ‘70s and ‘80s. “There are about 600,000 vehicles in the country, but only 5% of them are newer than 10 years and about 50% are over 30 years old,” Todt said. “It requires education, enforcement, improvements in infrastructure and rejuvenating vehicles,” he added.
Deputy Transport Minister, Oscar del Toro Quesada acknowledged that Cuban authorities face huge challenges in this area. After government restrictions lasting half a century, in January 2014 they began to allow the free sale of vehicles, but the astronomical prices have only supported a few transactions.
In 2009 a road safety plan was launched, which foresaw greater legal and institutional support, training and education, maintenance of roads and safer vehicles, but this strategy has not yet borne fruit.
Nearly 700 people died on Cuban roads in 2014*, a rate of 6.2 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, higher than the previous year (five per 100,000). In the first half of 2015, there have been 346 deaths.
*Translator’s note: Traffic deaths in Cuba per 100,000 motor vehicles are more than ten times the rate in the United States. Traffic deaths are generally compared based on deaths per miles/kilometers driven, but that data is not available for Cuba.