Approximately 1.25 million people die every year on the world’s roads as a result of road traffic crashes. They are the number one cause of death among young people aged 15–29 years. As well as the public health impact of road traffic injuries, the disproportionate impact of road traffic crashes on the younger age groups makes them an important development problem: road traffic crashes are estimated to cost countries approximately 3% of their GDP, with the economic losses in low- and middle-income countries equivalent to 5% of GDP.
Road traffic deaths are not evenly distributed around the world. Low- and middle-income countries represent 90% of the world’s road traffic deaths, although people in these countries only own around half of the world’s vehicles. The risk of dying on the roads also depends in great part on where people live: Europe has the lowest number of road traffic deaths per 100 000 population while Africa has the highest rate
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 26.6 deaths per 100 000 population. In Asia the problem is equally serious. Most of those affected by road traffic crashes are people who cannot afford a car - pedestrians, cyclists and users of public transportation. Road crashes also place a heavy burden on a continents younger members: road crashes are the second leading cause of death for the 5 to 44 age group in African countries, and those aged 15-44 account for half of road traffic deaths globally.
Globally, the number of road traffic deaths and serious injuries has stabilized during the last decade; however, a significant decline has not been achieved. Without further improvement in road safety efforts, the number of deaths will likely increase. Based on existing trends in global crash deaths2 the coming decade will produce over 17 million deaths and may also bring some 500 million injured.3 In addition to human suffering and grief, crash death and trauma generate high economic costs through lost income, medical and rehabilitation costs, judicial and custodial costs, as well as property damage. Crash deaths and injuries have significant limiting impacts on human capital because of the dominant age groups of victims: road crashes are the leading cause of death globally for people aged 5 to 29 years.
A Generation of Action
The World Report on Road Traffic Injury Prevention, launched jointly in 2004 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.
Following the report, now published regularly by the WHO, a number of good practice manuals were launched for practical implementation of programmes aiming at minimizing the key risk factors.The latest report, Global Status Report on Road Safety 2018, can be accessed here.
To learn more about the Global Plan for the Decade of Action for Road Safety, please see the dedicated section "Global Plan for the Decade of Action for Road Safety" that hosts also the United Nations Road Safety Collaboration Group Work and the related WHO page.
The adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has given new impetus to the international efforts aiming at addressing the road safety pandemics. Aimed at halving road traffic deaths and injuries by 2020 and providing access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all by 2030, Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) targets 3.6 and 11.2 represent the strongest commitment ever made by the United Nations to road injury prevention.
Five years after the launch of the Decade and following the adoption of the SDGs, the 2015 Brasilia Declaration was a call to rethink transport policies in order to favour more sustainable modes of transport such as walking, cycling and using public transport. It highlighted strategies to ensure the safety of all road users, improve laws and enforcement, make roads safer through infrastructural modifications, ensure that vehicles are equipped with life-saving technologies, and enhance emergency trauma care systems.
In May 2017, the WHO has released the Save LIVES technical package. The document provides an evidence-based inventory of priority interventions to be implemented towards achieving the SDG targets.
Stockholm and the second Decade of Action
In February 2020, the 3rd Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety convened 1700 delegates from around 140 countries, including more than 70 ministers and vice-ministers and heads of international agencies, civil society organizations, foundations and private companies. Hosted at the request of the UN General Assembly by the Government of Sweden in collaboration with WHO, the theme was “Achieving Global Goals 2030”, highlighting the connections between road safety and achievement of other Sustainable Development Goal targets.
The Ministerial Conference culminated in the forward-looking “Stockholm Declaration”, which calls for a new global target to reduce road traffic deaths and injuries by 50% by 2030. In addition, it invites strengthened efforts on activities in all five pillars of the Global Plan for the Decade of Action: better road safety management; safer roads, vehicles and people; and enhanced post-crash care. It also calls for speeding up the shift to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable modes of transport like walking, cycling and public transport. WHO is asked to continue to produce the series of global status reports, as a means of monitoring progress towards achievement of the 12 Global Road Safety Performance Targets.
Fifty Per Cent Reduction in Deaths
In August 2020 The UN General Assembly issued a further declaration which proclaimed the period 2021–2030 as the Second Decade of Action for Road Safety, with a goal of reducing road traffic deaths and injuries by at least 50 per cent from 2021 to 2030, and in this regard calls upon Member States to continue action through 2030 on all the road safety-related targets of the Sustainable Development Goals, including target 3.6, in line with the pledge of the 2019 high-level political forum on sustainable development convened under the auspices of the General Assembly, especially taking into account the remaining decade of action to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 in their entirety.
A new plan for the Second Decade of Action will be launched in May 2020. This highlights that although ambitious, the target of achieving a 50% reduction in global road traffic deaths and injuries by 2030 is realistic and achievable if the existing technical and governance solutions are implemented consistently by all countries over the coming 10 years. In some countries this will imply modest gains that are sustained over time. For example, a gradual decline of 7-8% per year would lead to a net reduction of 50% in the number of deaths over 10 years. In other countries the changes will be more abrupt and may be observable only towards the end of the decade.
To achieve a 50% reduction in deaths and serious injuries, it will be necessary to utilize a safe system approach that invests in solutions that deliver both short- and long-term outcomes.