Actress and road safety advocate Michelle Yeoh speaks out


A public road safety campaign titled “Start With Me” kicked off this morning outside Maha Bandula Park in central Yangon.

Discussing issues of road safety with Mizzima is Michelle Yeoh, a renowned actress, UNDP Goodwill Ambassador and road safety advocate.

Q: Why did you get involved in road safety and the Safe Steps programme?

A:This is a cause that is very close to my heart. I have been advocating the importance of road safety for many years now. When I was invited to be an ambassador for the programme, I accepted immediately. It is my privilege to champion this cause, especially in my home region, Asia.

How do you view the issue of road safety around the world? Are there many differences between say Europe and Asia when it comes to safeguards?

Road safety is one of the great health and development challenges of our time. Every year 1.25 million lives are lost, and 50 million more people are seriously injured. Whereas great progress has been made in many parts of the world, the numbers continue to rise in low- and middle-income countries.

The Asian region is among those worst affected by dangerous roads, with 700,000 losing their lives in road-related fatalities every year. We need more governments in the region to make road safety a priority, and put in place effective legislation on key risk factors on the road like speeding, drink-driving, and seat-belt use.

What are the main messages of the Safe Steps programme?

The Safe Steps campaign has a simple message: we all have a part to play in road safety. Whether you are a member of government or a driver, a passenger or a pedestrian, we must do what we can to prevent the unnecessary loss of lives on roads.

You have personally taken a number of risks during your movie career in terms of stunts. But in the Safe Steps campaign, you hint that taking risks is not right for the road. How do you view this issue of risk?

There is a big difference between the movies and real life. In the movies, we act and can have as many 'takes' as we need to get it right. But it’s not the same in the real world – it takes only a very few seconds for a tragic crash to occur, which is irrevocable. We have a responsibility to behave safely on the road, and to think of those we share the road with.

Myanmar, under the new government, is looking to improve road safety. What do you see as the challenges?

It’s estimated that more than 10,000 people died on the country’s roads in 2015. This figure has doubled over ten years, at the same time as the number of cars has also doubled. We need to do all we can to reverse that trend.

In Myanmar today, there are real problems with dangerous driving and speeding, a lack of emergency medical services, and poor vehicle standards – most cars are right-hand drive, despite the fact that driving is on the right.

As is the case for many countries in the region, motorcycle safety is a top concern. Too many people – including children – ride on the back of bikes with no helmets and no protection. That’s due to a lack of alternative options, the price of helmets, and also enforcement of rules.

Like anywhere in the world, to improve road safety we need to tackle the basics: we need to improve infrastructure, vehicles, education, legislation and health care.

Above all, we need government commitment, and in Myanmar we know we have that.

Do you have any personal experience of being caught in or witnessing a road accident?

I have been fortunate to travel worldwide and standards vary hugely. It still often shocks me when I travel to places like Africa or India which have very dangerous roads.

Africa is particularly hard-hit with the highest road fatality rate of all the world’s regions.I remember being in South Africa and seeing children running on a busy main road before sunrise just to get to school. I went to the middle of the road to signal the vehicles to decelerate, but they didn’t even slow down.

When I was in Vietnam for a public safety announcement on wearing helmets, I saw motorcycles used as “little cars”. I think the highest number of people I saw was two parents and four kids on a motorcycle.

It breaks my heart to meet so many families who have lost loved ones in avoidable road crashes.

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