New WHO report highlights insufficient progress to tackle lack of safety on the world's roads
A new report by the World Health Organization (WHO) indicates that road traffic deaths continue to rise, with an annual 1.35 million fatalities. The WHO Global status report on road safety 2018 highlights that road traffic injuries are now the leading killer of children and young people age 5-29 years.
“These deaths are an unacceptable price to pay for mobility,” said WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “There is no excuse for inaction. This is a problem with proven solutions. This report is a call for governments and partners to take much greater action to implement these measures.”
The WHO Global status report on road safety 2018 documents that despite an increase in the overall number of deaths, the rates of death relative to the size of the world population have stabilized in recent years. This suggests that existing road safety efforts in some middle- and high-income countries have mitigated the situation.
“Road safety is an issue that does not receive anywhere near the attention it deserves—and it really is one of our great opportunities to save lives around the world,” said Michael R. Bloomberg, Founder and CEO of Bloomberg Philanthropies and WHO Global Ambassador for Noncommunicable Diseases and Injuries. “We know which interventions work. Strong policies and enforcement, smart road design, and powerful public awareness campaigns can save millions of lives over the coming decades.”
In the settings where progress has been made, it is largely attributed to better legislation around key risks such as speeding, drinking and driving, and failing to use seat-belts, motorcycle helmets, and child restraints; safer infrastructure like sidewalks and dedicated lanes for cyclists and motorcyclists; improved vehicle standards such as those that mandate electronic stability control and advanced braking; and enhanced post-crash care.
The report documents that these measures have contributed to reductions in road traffic deaths in 48 middle- and high-income countries. However, not a single low-income country has demonstrated a reduction in overall deaths, largely because these measures are lacking.
In fact, the risk of a road traffic death remains 3x higher in low-income countries than in high-income countries. Ninety-three percent of the world's fatalities on the roads occur in low- and middle-income countries, even though these countries have approximately 60% of the world's vehicles. The rates are highest in Africa (26.6 per 100,000 population) and lowest in Europe (9.3 per 100,000 population). Conversely, since the previous edition of the report, three regions of the world have reported a decline in road traffic death rates: Americas, Europe, and the Western Pacific.
Variations in road traffic deaths are also reflected by type of road user. Globally, pedestrians and cyclists account for 26% of all road traffic deaths, with that figure as high as 44% in Africa and 36% in the Eastern Mediterranean. Motorcycle riders and passengers account for 28% of all road traffic deaths, but the proportion is higher in some regions (e.g., 43% in South-East Asia and 36% in the Western Pacific). The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has set an ambitious target of halving the global number of deaths and injuries from road traffic crashes by 2020.
Road traffic injuries cause considerable economic losses to individuals, families, and nations as a whole. These losses arise from the cost of treatment as well as lost productivity for those killed or disabled by their injuries, and for family members who need to take time off work or school to care for the injured. Road traffic crashes cost most countries 3% of their gross domestic product. Road traffic injuries are the leading cause of death for children and young adults aged 5-29 years.
Risk factors in road traffic crashes and injuries include speeding; driving under the influence of alcohol or other psychoactive substances; nonuse of motorcycle helmets, seat-belts, and child restraints; distracted driving; unsafe road infrastructure; unsafe vehicles; inadequate post-crash care; and inadequate enforcement of traffic laws.
The Safe System approach to road safety aims to ensure a safe transport system for all road users. Such an approach takes into account people’s vulnerability to serious injuries in road traffic crashes and recognizes that the system should be designed to be forgiving of human error. The cornerstones of this approach are safe roads and roadsides, safe speeds, safe vehicles, and safe road users, all of which must be addressed to eliminate fatal crashes and reduce serious injuries.
Distracted driving caused by factors including mobile phones is a growing concern for road safety. Drivers using mobile phones are approximately four times more likely to be involved in a crash than drivers not using a mobile phone. Using a phone while driving slows reaction times (notably braking reaction time, but also reaction to traffic signals) and makes it difficult to keep in the correct lane and to keep the correct following distances. Hands-free phones are not much safer than hand-held phone sets, and texting considerably increases the risk of a crash.
Safe vehicles play a critical role in averting crashes and reducing the likelihood of serious injury. A number of UN regulations on vehicle safety could, if applied to countries’ manufacturing and production standards, potentially save many lives. These include requiring vehicle manufacturers to meet front and side impact regulations, including electronic stability control (to prevent over-steering), and ensuring that airbags and seat-belts are fitted in all vehicles. Without these basic standards, the risk of traffic injuries—both to those in the vehicle and those out of it—is considerably increased.
Effective interventions to prevent road traffic injuries include designing safer infrastructure and incorporating road safety features into land-use and transport planning, improving the safety features of vehicles, improving post-crash care for victims of road crashes, setting and enforcing laws relating to key risks, and raising public awareness. In terms of improving the safety features of vehicles, more availability, especially in developing markets, of advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and autonomous vehicles (AVs) could help reduce the number of crashes and injuries.
For information about the WHO response to the issue, which includes a road safety technical package that synthesizes evidence-based measures that can significantly reduce road traffic fatalities and injuries, see Save LIVES: a road safety technical package. WHO aims to save lives and meet the road safety target of halving the global number of deaths and injuries from road traffic crashes by 2020.
Check out WHO's Global status report on road safety 2018, which presents information on road safety from 175 countries: Global status report on road safety 2018.