Interview

Michelle Yeoh on Road Safety

When ex-Bond girl, Michelle Yeoh, heard how many people died each year on our roads she was spurred into action…

…Tony Bosworth caught up with the actress and model turned safety evangelist (Global Ambassador for the Make Roads Safe Campaign) when she visited Australia to hand out awards at the Australian Road Safety Foundation.

The last time you saw Michelle Yeoh it may well have been riding without a helmet on the back of a BMW motorbike, clinging on to James Bond for dear life.

These days, Ms Yeoh – who starred opposite Pierce Brosnan in Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies, is on another mission – to make the world’s roads safer.

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The Malaysian-born actress’s partner is well known French motorsport executive Jean Todt, previously CEO of Ferrari, who is heavily involved in road safety programs around the world through the Foundation for the Automobile and Society, which two years ago helped launch the United Nations Decade of Action for Road Safety.

“Jean asked if I was willing to help with some public announcements initially, particularly in Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand, around safety helmets because they use the motorcycle as a little car, the whole family. I think my record must have been seeing six or seven people on one motorcycle!

“While I was doing this,” said Ms Yeoh, “I wanted to learn more about the cause that I was talking about and I found the statistics were just appalling. I learnt there were 1.3million people dead on the roads and 30million injured, every year around the world.”

The safety advocate points out that every minute someone somewhere dies on the world’s roads.

“This includes children just walking to school and getting killed on the way – it is totally unacceptable. Too many of us are complacent, we don’t really think about it, and we are also fatalistic sometimes – we’re just going around the corner, we don’t need to put our seat belt on, that’s what some think. But a few seconds, that’s all it takes, and your whole life, everything changes. It’s a tragedy just waiting to happen so that is what really drove me.”

She also points to Australian fatalities – 1300 deaths a year, according to the latest official figures.

“There are many things to be done. The good news is, much of it is very simple, for example having your seat belts on, not texting when driving, observing speed limits, they are all there to protect you, but some think it is such an inconvenience to put on your seat belt.

“The worst thing we are faced with now is texting and driving. You can’t even safely walk and text, let alone drive a car and text! It’s these kind of awareness campaigns that we need to push through.

“Today I’m here for the Australian Road Safety Awards and I think it’s so important to support people who are doing this kind of thing, and who connect with the community.

“It’s not only about government building good roads, it’s also about all of us, it’s about school and education, it’s many things. It’s not just about drivers, it’s about pedestrians too.”

Ms Yeoh is a firm believer in driver training for all drivers, young and old, and stresses that we should look at safety devices in cars at least as much as we pore over luxury equipment.

“Car buyers need to think about the safety devices in the car they are thinking of buying. It shouldn’t be all about the leather seats and the latest hi-fi system.
I’m a lousy driver but things like skid control can save you.

“The fact is, the car is not going to go away. It took us 100 years to get to a billion cars, in the next 10 years we will have the next billion cars. Anything can be dangerous, a knife can be dangerous, it just depends whose hand it is in and you need to abide by the laws that are there to protect you and others.

“I don’t know why but I have always been apprehensive about driving. I prefer to walk or get on a bicycle. I prefer not to be behind the wheel.

“I do crazy stunts when I’m in the movies, but when I’m off the screen I’m very happy when I have a friend to drive me around.

Ms Yeoh won her first car – a Toyota – in a lucky draw when she was 17, but admits to having a terrible sense of direction and doesn’t own a car herself these days.

And yes, I did ask – who does the ex-Bond girl think is the best Bond?

“Oh well, I’m biased,” she laughs. “The good thing is Bond keeps changing and evolving which is how it should be, but Pierce (Brosnan) for me is my sweetheart, and Daniel (Craig) is just different but he needed to be. But how do you compare a blue diamond with a pink diamond and decide which is better?”

A LITTLE BIT ABOUT MICHELLE YEOH:

One of Asia’s most versatile leading actors, Michelle has starred in global hits such as the James Bond movie Tomorrow Never Dies, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Memoirs of a Geisha, Sunshine, Mummy 3 and Babylon AD.

In her role as Global Ambassador for the Make Roads Safe campaign, she advocates for road injury to be recognised as a global public health and development priority.

Michelle led the campaign’s Call for Decade of Action ahead of the first UN Conference on road safety, in November 2009, and addressed the UN General Assembly in 2010 as it proclaimed the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety.

A LITTLE BIT ABOUT MAKE ROADS SAFE – THE CAMPAIGN FOR GLOBAL ROAD SAFETY:

“Every six seconds someone is killed or seriously injured on the world’s roads. With 1.3 million road deaths each year this is a global epidemic comparable to malaria or tuberculosis. And like those killer diseases, road crashes prey on the young, the poor and the vulnerable. Yet by comparison to other global killers, road injury is utterly neglected.

“We are calling on the international community to take urgent action to stop the daily tragedy of thousands of preventable deaths and injuries on the world’s roads.

“Since we launched in 2006, we have proposed, campaigned for and achieved a first ever Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety and approval by the UN for a Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-20.

“During the Decade of Action we will continue to campaign to make sure that politicians, institutions like the World Bank, vehicle manufacturers and transport planners put road safety first. We will work to ensure that the Decade is Action.”


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Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober was born in the shadow of Mount Panorama in Bathurst and, so, it was inevitable he’d fall into work as a motoring writer. He began his motoring career in 2000 reviewing commercial vehicles, before becoming editor of Caravan & Motorhome magazine. He then moved to MOTOR Magazine before going freelance and contributing to Overlander 4WD, 4×4 Australia, TopGear Australia, Men’s Health, Men’s Fitness, The Australian, CARSguide, and many more.