As a manager and then CEO of the Ferrari team, Jean Todt has won 14 world championship titles, five of them with the legend and his close friend, Michael Schumacher. Today, from the position of the UN Special Envoy for Road Safety, Jean Todt is focused on reducing road accidents. In this capacity, he recently traveled to Greece and spoke to the Athens-Macedonian News Agency (ANA).
Jean Todt participated as an official guest at the diploma awarding ceremony for refugees who successfully attended road safety seminars. The specific programme was organized by the UNHCR in collaboration with the Road Safety Institute “Panos Mylonas” and the NGO “Catholic Relief Services” and with the support of the Ministry of Miigration and Asylum. “It is important that we try to give the refugees opportunities,” he told ANA.
In addition, the aim of his visit was to put road safety at the top of the political agenda and to ensure the effective implementation of the new Global Road Safety Action Plan. With 1.3 million people globally losing their lives on the roads every year, road traffic accidents are considered the number one cause of death for children and young people aged five to 29, and Jean Todt describes it as a ‘silent pandemic’. The UN’s goal is to halve the number of road deaths worldwide by 2030.
It is noted that Greece has reduced its road death rate by 54% over the past ten years, faster than the EU average, and the country has received the European Transport Safety Council (ETSC) Road Safety Award for 2021. However, it still has the seventh highest rate of road deaths in the European Union.
The full interview to ANA and Maria Kouzinopoulou follows:
– What was the purpose of your visit to Greece?
– As the UN special envoy for road safety mainly I was invited for the award ceremony of the driving and road safety project for refugees, which for me was very important because everyone has the right to live properly and I wanted to support such initiative. And of course when I travel, I take the opportunity to meet some people from public and private sectors to address the situation of road safety in the country and around the world to understand what they do and if I can be of any support. I met some of the ministers in Greece and they spoke to me about what has been done over the last year, what the existing situation is, what the problems are and what needs to be done. And I was very happy because my job is to create awareness to the governments. Still too many people die on the road but they need to be encouraged and go to the next step.
– What should be the next step?
– There are many fatalities all over the world. In a way I think it is unfair to give all the responsibility to the governments. Every road user has a responsibility, pedestrians, motorcyclists, car drivers have a responsibility. That is why it is good to teach people how to drive and behave. And media have a strong responsibility in educating people. That is why we created the UN campaign #streetsforlife that we launched first time in New York in July and we spoke about the possibility of implementing the campaign in Greece.
– How can driving lessons support the refugees’ integration into societies?
– When they arrive, they are isolated and it’s important to try to give opportunities. The countries also need more drivers for public transportation, so that is something that could be an opportunity for the refugees. Giving access to learning how to drive is very important and you could see the emotion, because finally I feel that I can bring something, I am important because I am able to show that I am comparable to Greek citizens.
The road is the number one killer for youth 5-29 years old. We are talking with people who are victims of the situation in their countries, we are talking about Syria, Soudan. In a way the war is terrible but the road is killing more people. And we know that we can avoid it, so all that can be done to address better is essential.
– What are your goals as the UN Special Envoy for Road Safety?
– To speak with governments, to speak with private sector and to make sure that [road accidents] don’t remain a silent pandemic. We have masks because we are scared, we don’t want to be infected with covid-19. So we want the people to be scared because the road is dangerous. If you don’t wear your safety belt, you may die or may be disabled for the rest of your life. When you are drunk and drive, it’s the same, if you use your cell phone, it’s the same. So we need to create awareness and to explain to people that every road user is vulnerable, like everybody was vulnerable because of covid-19.
– How did you decide to work on the humanitarian field?
– Clearly my passion was car and I was quite successful, nevertheless I was the witness of some drama in motor racing accident. A lot has been done and motor racing improved a lot on safety. And then you realize that you can improve motor racing and on the other side you see the situation on the road. In motor racing you learn on car construction, car electronic, road infrastructure, the equipment. So we use motor racing to improve the situation. An then I have quite set an experience on safety and I try to give something back to the society. People want to give back on vaccination, the want to give back on certain things in order to make a world better. That’s what I try to do.
– How safe is motor racing?
– Motor racing is dangerous as a global parameter. But if you take motor racing 50 years ago, every decade has been much safer. Formula 1 is pinnacle of motor sport. Since 1994, when was the death of Ayrton Sena and Rolan Ratzenberger in Imola to 2022 was one less, Jules Bianchi. And today if the accident occurred, he would not die. You know, every time there is an accident, racing crash, you analyze all what is happening in order not to happen again. Maybe you remember the terrible accident in Bahrain, I think it was 2020 with Romain Grosjean. If he didn’t have the head protection, called halo, he wouldn’t have survived. When halo was a new introduce, everybody was against it. Now not a driver will drive a Formula 1 car without the halo. You remember that the car exploded into fire. Today the car would not explode into fire because we have learnt from it. So every time there is an accident we learn from it in the laboratory and that’s what we need to do on the road. But of course, it’s easier to do that in Norway or in Switzerland rather than to do that in Nepal, Bangladesh or Vietnam.
– Which do you remember as the most important moments of all this impressive journey, from a co-driver in racing to Ferrari director and CEO, then president of the FIA and now UN Special Envoy?
– Life is a chapter for everybody. You have childhood, you have university, you have a career or you get married, you have children. We all have different chapters. Of course I do remember each of my chapter. Incidentally, I am preparing a book which will be the story of my life through chapters. Sometimes you remember more when it has been difficult rather than when it has been easy. Life has obstacles. We do remember obstacles and sometimes it’s tougher. But what is very important is that you learn from everything which occurs and you take that into consideration. And you know that is your passion because you learn every day. My motivation is to learn.
– You have participated in the past as a co-driver in the Rally Acropolis. What do you remember from this participation?
– I think that the first time I came to Greece was around the year 1968-1969. So much has changed. Sometimes you have nostalgia that it was better. It was different because times are changing and now if you want to control things better, it has to be different. Years back there was no speed limit on the road and motorway. Now it may seem boring, but it’s safer. Going back I remember the Acropolis Rally, we were going through all Greece. It was one of the toughest rallies. But it was an adventure. And Greece is such a beautiful country. You have so many nice roads, even if they are difficult. I mean, I love Greece.