Every 6 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.
Nine in ten road deaths and injuries are in developing countries. The economic cost to these countries is estimated by the World Bank at up to US $100 billion a year (equivalent to all annual overseas aid from OECD countries). Research in India and Bangladesh has shown that at least half of families affected by a road death or serious injury fall below the poverty line. The poorest communities are the worst affected, in rich countries and developing countries alike. Pedestrians, cyclists and other vulnerable road users are the majority of those killed and injured.
Road crashes are the leading global cause of death for young people aged 10-24, and by 2015 are predicted to be the leading cause of premature death and disability for children in developing countries aged five and above. Already, according to Unicef and the WHO, 260,000 children die and another 10 million are injured in road crashes every year.
The international community has failed to respond to this epidemic. Global road safety is largely ignored and neglected by politicians. This neglect means that developing countries are unable to receive the financial support and technical advice they need to improve road safety in their countries. And while road deaths in the rich world are falling, deaths in the developing world are rising fast.
The ‘vaccines’ for the road injury epidemic are available. We know how to reduce road deaths, and in most industrialised countries road deaths have been cut by at least half over the past 30 years, even as the number of vehicles has increased dramatically. Improved road design and a focus on pedestrian safety, safer vehicles, motorcycle helmets, seat belts, action on drink driving, driver training and licensing and tackling speed – this is how road deaths can be reduced. The missing ingredient is political commitment to take action.
The Make Roads Safe campaign is urging governments, business leaders and the public to support the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety.