The promoter of road safety in Colombia and Latin America, and founder of the League against Road Violence, talks about why she started working on the country’s roads and how to change the accident figures.
Mary Bottagisio seeks to transform the culture of road safety. / Private Archive (Daniel Edo Ruiz /)
How do you see road safety in Colombia?
It is the other invisible pandemic, but just as deadly as COVID-19. We have 2021 with 20% more injuries and deaths than we had in 2020. We went out to kill ourselves and to kill ourselves. Today we have more than 5,500 people who have been affected by traffic accidents. We have four times more deaths in children and adolescents from road accidents than from coronavirus, despite that it is still an invisible pandemic. Last year we activated all the institutions of the Colombian State to protect ourselves from a pandemic that we did not know about, and we do know about it. On average, about 7,000 lives are lost each year.
What is needed to generate that safety on the roads?
We need political will, for example, in 2013, the law that the road safety agency generated said that there was no money to implement road safety policies, that we did not have a leading entity that could really lead those policies. Today we have a national road safety agency with vast resources and we are dying more. So what are we going to invent. In 2011, Colombia committed to reducing road deaths and injuries by 2021 by 50%, but not only did it not succeed, but what it did was increase the number of deaths.
What strategies have other countries developed that may be applicable in Colombia?
France had 17,000 dead and today it has just 3,000, and that is achieved only when a president of the Republic had the political will. This is how France managed to implement measures to reduce this sacrifice in human lives.
Why are the rules of the road not enforced in Colombia?
In the country there is something that is very good, and that is that we demand individual behavior from citizens, but we are not demanding from our governments and our institutions a true commitment to road safety. The political managers say that the problem is one of road culture, and here there are deeper problems: it is called infrastructure, vehicle safety and inappropriate speeds.
Why the “Safer Cars” campaign?
Colombia has become the pantry of vehicles that they do not want in other countries, that would not pass any control of safety standards. In addition to that, we are not controlling the citizen, no city is implementing electronic control systems and this is an example that happened in Gaira. There is total anarchy on the tracks. Public transport is public, who has to monitor and guarantee that it is safe is the state itself. How many people died at the hands of the Zapaticos and now another number of very similar vehicles are going to enter.
In addition to vehicles and roads, what about the ordinary citizen?
We have 52 million Colombians and 15 million vehicles, and we are forgetting the pedestrian, who is the actor who is paying the consequences of this lack of government action. We have the cyclist, and it is curious that we say that it is necessary to use the bicycle more, but we do not generate a system so that the cyclist can go safely. We are facing a new class conflict. 89% of the people who died in 2019 had not finished high school.
He has been a lecturer in multiple commissions and organizations, what does he say about Colombia and what lessons does he bring?
International entities have been saying that it is necessary to slow down, guarantee the safety of vehicles and make infrastructure safe. While the international community, in 2008, said that it was necessary to reduce speeds, Colombia was increasing them. I have been 15 years trying to transform that reality. Nor have we succeeded and the few laws that have to do with road safety in that country have been presented by us, obviously with the support of the Congress of the Republic.
You are an engineer, what led you to work for road safety in Colombia?
A violent road stole the life of my little sister, who was riding her bicycle to the university, and I understood that there was a whole context that legitimized her action. That happens when you give a license to a person who is not suitable, because when you have recurrence of traffic violations, you become a violent trafficker.