Michelle Yeoh urges Asians to be road safety heroes

By Ma. Rosanna Mina, abs-cbnNEWS.com

Posted at May 26 2010 05:41 PM | Updated as of May 27 2010 07:33 PM

MANILA, Philippines – Asian film icon and Hollywood actress Michelle Yeoh, together with the Asian Development Bank (ADB), called for the prioritization of road safety in the region during a transport forum at the ADB Headquarters in Mandaluyong City Wednesday morning.

Former James Bond girl Michelle Yeoh poses for photographers at the ADB Auditorium. Photo by Ma. Rosanna Mina, abs-cbnNEWS.com

Yeoh, the Global Ambassador for the Make Roads Safe campaign, said of road violence: “Of all the world’s dominating villains I’ve defeated with pretty cool martial arts moves, none has been as cruel or deadly as this epidemic on our roads. This is a killer that robs families of their children, that separates lovers forever, that destroys lives in a sudden blow of violence.”

The Make Roads Safe campaign is a broad-based coalition which includes motoring organizations, public health bodies, road safety non-government organizations and international organizations. It is coordinated by the London-based FIA (Federation Internationale de l'Automobile or International Automobile Federation) Foundation for the Automobile and Society.

The Malaysian actress of “Tomorrow Never Dies,” “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” and “Memoirs of a Geisha” fame paid her first visit to Manila to participate in the ADB Transport Forum “Changing Course: Pathways to Sustainable Transport.”

She spoke in Wednesday’s morning session alongside ADB Vice-President for Knowledge Management and Sustainable Development Ursula Schaefer-Preuss.

Yeoh related that in her travels to various countries as the Make Roads Safe Global Ambassador, she noticed that “transport policies are failing people.” She even called road violence as the “catastrophe of the modern world.”

Schaefer-Preuss explained: “Road safety is a major concern for everyone. Globally, an estimated 1.18 million people are victims of fatal road accidents every year.”

According to the ADB official, 60% of global road accidents occur in Asia and the Pacific.

“I’ve traveled all over the world but Asia is my home. And I care passionately that we do all we can in this region to make our roads safe,” Yeoh stated. “Road safety is where change is desperately needed."

She then posed a challenge to the forum’s attendees, which included representatives from governments and organizations.

“James Bond and all the superheroes cannot defeat this… You will to have to be the heroes,” she said. “I am optimistic about the future. I believe you can be the heroes of road safety.”

Real heroes for change

Yeoh and Schaefer-Preuss noted that road safety prioritization entails infrastructure, legislation, law enforcement, strategic partnerships and citizen responsibility.

Yeoh even gave simple road safety tips such as wearing safety belts and helmets as well as watching out for speed limits and pedestrians.

“Green is ‘Go.’ Yellow doesn’t mean ‘Step on the gas,’” she remarked. “It doesn’t mean if your vehicle is bigger, you have the right of way.”

Make Roads Safe campaign Global Ambassador Michelle Yeoh with ADB employees and media members. Photo by Ma. Rosanna Mina, abs-cbnNEWS.com

When asked by abs-cbnNEWS.com for other ways to be road safety heroes, Yeoh said people must protect themselves while ensuring the safety of others.

But for her, the real heroes are the governments and development banks because “they can really make a difference.”

She cited the importance of political will, partnerships and the “crucially important role” of the ADB.

In fact, the ADB and FIA Foundation signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) during a press briefing on Wednesday to promote safe and sustainable transport in Asia and the Pacific.

The ADB and FIA Foundation are planning to hold joint activities, including the “helmet vaccine” initiatives in ADB member developing countries. The Global Helmet Vaccine Initiative (GHVI) aims to educate the public on helmet use, establish helmet standards and construct non-profit helmet assembly plants.

The ADB was represented by Director General for Regional and Sustainable Development Department Xianbin Yao while FIA Foundation was represented by Deputy Director General Saul Billingsley.

ADB’s commitment

Michelle Yeoh holds a safety helmet during a photo op with ADB and Fia Foundation officials. Photo by Ma. Rosanna Mina, abs-cbnNEWS.com

The ADB and Yeoh also brought up the upcoming United Nations (UN) Decade of Action for Road Safety which runs from 2011 to 2020.

“We are now seeing real momentum,” said Yeoh, who encouraged attendees to turn the momentum into action to save people’s lives.

In the first Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety in Moscow, Russia in November 2009, the ADB and all other multilateral banks made a commitment to increase their support for worldwide road safety.

Schaefer-Preuss said the ADB has given high priority to the role of transport as an important component of poverty reduction and economic development.

She said almost a third of ADB’s lending is devoted to transport, mainly for roads and other forms of transport.

“ADB’s new transport philosophy is underpinned by the 3 pillars of ADB’s long term strategy: Inclusive economic growth, environmentally sustainable growth and regional cooperation,” she said.

“We understand that developing member countries have limited institutional capacity for road asset management, road safety and social sustainability concerts,” she added. “ADB will provide substantial technical assistance for capacity development and institutional development.”

'Vaccines' for roads

After the signing of the MOU between the ADB and FIA Foundation, Yeoh remarked that the agreement was commendable.

“It’s a great first step… We are going to work together,” she said.

The next step, according to the Make Roads Safe campaign Global Ambassador, is to put the “vaccines” (ways to cure the epidemic of road deaths and injuries) in place.

Examples of “vaccines” aside from helmets are footpaths, overpasses, bicycle lanes, safety barriers, wide medians, turning lanes, road markings and speed limits.

Such solutions are needed to address the world’s current transport situation.

Yeoh and Schaefer-Preuss, who strongly advocated for road safety, also shared their bad experiences on the road after abs-cbnNEWS.com asked them about such instances.

Schaefer-Preuss said her worst road experience is the mere sight of seeing people in Manila crossing the Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (EDSA)—something she said she would not dare do.

She even noted the presence of “street vendors meandering through buses” in the Philippine capital.

Dangerous situations

Yeoh, for her part, said she is fortunate enough not to have figured in any road mishap but has seen several “disastrous” accidents.

Michelle Yeoh during the press briefing at the ADB Headquarters. Photo by Ma. Rosanna Mina, abs-cbnNEWS.com

For someone who has been to India, Costa Rica, China, Vietnam and New York as a road safety ambassador, Yeoh said her “biggest fear was the simple act of crossing the street.”

She felt such fear when she was asked to cross a street twice while filming for a documentary: “I felt the director was trying to kill me.”

The actress pointed out that road chaos is also present in first world cities such as Paris and London. In India, the problem is worse because pedestrians and motorists have to deal with cows and other animals on the streets.

In South Africa, Yeoh recounted the sight of children running on a busy main road before sunrise just to get to school.

She went to the middle of the road to signal the vehicles to decelerate. “But they didn’t even slow down,” Yeoh said.

Because of her travels to various cities and visits to road injury victims in trauma units, she concluded, “We have a very dangerous situation out there.”

She cited the importance of road safety: “When you’re safe, that goes a long, long way for the rest of your life.” – Report by Ma. Rosanna Mina, abs-cbnNEWS.com