Road Safety

Road traffic injuries are a major public health problem and a leading cause of death and injury around the world. Each year nearly 1.2 million people die and millions more are injured or disabled as a result of road crashes, mostly in low-income and middle-income countries. As well as creating enormous social costs for individuals, families and communities, road traffic injuries place a heavy burden on health services and economies. The cost to countries, possibly already struggling with other development concerns, may well be 1%-2% of their gross national product.

As motorization increases, road traffic crashes are a fast-growing problem, particularly in developing countries. If present trends continue unchecked, road traffic injuries will increase dramatically in most parts of the world over the next two decades, with the greatest impact falling on the most vulnerable citizens. Appropriate and targeted action is urgently needed.

Africa is the region with the worst death rate from road crashes, with a fatality rate of 28 deaths per 100 000 population. Most of those affected by road traffic crashes are people who will never be able to afford a car - pedestrians, cyclists and users of public transportation. In a region where 50% of the population is below the age of 16, road crashes also place a heavy burden on the continent's younger members - road crashes are the second leading cause of death for the 5 to 44 age group in African countries. In Asia the problem is equally serious.

The World Report on Road Traffic Injury Prevention, launched in 2004 jointly by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Bank, identified improvements in road safety management that have dramatically decreased road traffic deaths and injuries in industrialized countries that have been active in road safety. The report showed that the use of seat-belts, helmets and child restraints has saved thousands of lives. The introduction and enforcement of appropriate speed limits, the creation of safer infrastructure, the enforcement of blood alcohol concentration limits and improvements in vehicle safety, are all interventions that have been tested and repeatedly shown to be effective. The World Report was the first ever comprehensive global overview of the magnitude, risk factors and impact of road traffic injuries. The World Report recommends practical actions to mitigate these factors and an integrated 'systems approach' to road safety improvements, using a lead agency to coordinate the development of national road safety strategies and plans. Following the report a number of good practice manuals have been launched for practical implementation of programmes to minimize the mentioned key risk factors.

The international community must now take the lead by encouraging good practice in road safety management and the take up of these interventions in other countries, in ways appropriate to their particular settings. To speed up such efforts, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution on 14 April 2004 urging greater attention and resources to be directed towards the global road safety crisis: it stressed the importance of international collaboration. The resolution has subsequent been followed by other supporting resolutions, and a first United Nations Global Road Safety Week in April 2007.

In November 2009 in Moscow more than seventy ministers and heads of delegations as well as representatives of governmental and nongovernmental organizations recognised that the solution to the global road safety crisis can only be implemented through multi-sectoral collaboration and partnerships among all concerned in both public and private sectors, with the involvement of civil society. The Ministers agreed that they were: ‘ determined to build on existing successes and learn from past experiences’. Key outcome of the Conference approved by the Ministers is the Moscow Declaration, which calls for a Decade of Action for Road Safety.