7 APRIL 2004 | GENEVA/PARIS -- Road crashes are the second leading cause of death globally among young people aged five to 29 and the third leading cause of death among people aged 30 to 44 years. Road crashes kill 1.2 million people every year and injure or disable as many as 50 million more. (See map and table for geographic and age-group data) Without immediate action to improve road safety, it is estimated that road traffic deaths will increase by 80% in low- and middle-income countries by 2020. A joint report launched by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Bank today demonstrates that much can be done to reduce the toll of deaths and injuries and that "Road Safety is no Accident".
“Thousands of people die on the world’s roads everyday. We are not talking about random events or ‘accidents’. We are talking about road crashes. The risks can be understood and therefore can be prevented,” said Dr LEE Jong-wook, Director-General, World Health Organization. “Road safety is no accident. We have the knowledge to act now. It is a question of political will,” he added.
The magnitude of this growing global public health crisis, the risk factors that lead to road traffic deaths and injuries and effective ways to prevent them are detailed in the World report on road traffic injury prevention. The report provides governments and other policy-makers, industry, nongovernmental organizations, international agencies and individuals with concrete recommendations to improve road safety.
Unlike in high-income countries where those most at risk of injury or death are drivers and passengers in cars, the people who are most at risk of being involved in a road traffic crash in low- and middle-income countries are pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists and users of informal modes of public transport.
Human and Economic cost
The human suffering caused by road crashes is huge – for every victim of a crash, there are family members, friends, and communities who must cope with the physical, psychological and economic consequences of the death, injury or disability of a loved one. Crash survivors and their families must cope with the painful and often long-term consequences of injury, disability and rehabilitation. In many cases, the cost of care, the loss of the primary breadwinner, funeral expenses, or the loss of income due to disability can drive a family into poverty.
The human suffering is in itself a reason to act now, but the economic impact is also significant. In low- and middle-income countries, the cost of road traffic injuries is estimated at US$ 65 billion, exceeding the total amount these countries receive in development assistance. Road traffic injuries cost countries between 1% and 2% of gross national product, amounting to US$ 518 billion every year.
Taking action makes a difference
However, many countries have already demonstrated that actions to improve road safety will protect people. Recent gains have been achieved in nations such as Colombia, Costa Rica, Ghana and Thailand. In past decades tens of thousands of lives have been saved in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United States of America and others countries in Western Europe. This success is attributed to improving the design of vehicles and roads and focusing on legislation, enforcement and sharing of information about the use of seat-belts, helmets, and child restraints and about the dangers of speed and drink-driving.
Among the report’s recommendations are the appointment of a lead agency in every country to coordinate multisectoral efforts, the preparation of national road safety strategies and plans of action with clear roles and objectives for each sector, and the implementation of proven interventions to prevent crashes and minimize injuries and their consequences. The report notes that road safety is a shared responsibility, and calls on the expertise of people across many sectors and disciplines, including public health professionals, health care providers, road and motor vehicle engineers, law enforcement officials and educators.