THE COMING PLAGUE OF ROAD TRAFFIC INJURIES: A PREVENTABLE BURDEN FOR RICH AND POOR COUNTRIES
Almost 1.2 million people are killed each year and 20-50 million are injured or disabled, most people are unaware that road traffic injuries are a leading cause of death and disability.
In developing countries, death rates from vehicle crashes are rising, and disproportionately high in relation to the number of crashes. According to a report published in 2000
- Developing and transitional countries cumulatively represent over 85 percent of all road traffic deaths.
- Kenya has nearly 2,000 fatalities per 10,000 crashes. Viet Nam has over 3,000 fatalities per 10,000 crashes.
- 44% of all road traffic deaths occur in the Asia/Pacific area, which only has 16 % of the total number of motor vehicles.
- At 71,495 and 59,927 total deaths, China and India, respectively, had the highest number of road fatalities in the world in 1995.
- Pedestrian deaths represent 62 % of all traffic fatalities in Lebanon. In most developing countries vulnerable road users, including pedestrians, bicycle and motor cycle riders, account for the majority of all fatalities.
- Eastern European countries represent 6% of motor vehicles, but 11% of crash fatalities worldwide.
- The Latin America/Caribbean region has the second highest crash costs behind Asia.
As developing countries increase vehicle use, road traffic injuries are expected to become the third leading cause of death and disability worldwide by 2020. In developing countries, each vehicle is much more lethal than the vehicles in developed countries, because they most frequently take the lives not of vehicle occupants, but of vulnerable road users: pedestrians, cyclists. Many developing countries are increasing the rate of motorized vehicle use at up to 18% per year. In India, for example, there has been a 23% increase in the number of vehicles from 1990-1999 and a 60-fold increase is predicted by 2050.
The human toll is tragic. Survivors and family members are affected not only by an immediate death or disability, but sometimes a lifetime of psychological and physical suffering. Crashes often result in orphans, and some victims, as young as infants, spend the rest of their lives in medical facilities.
In addition to the devastating human toll, the economic impact of road crashes is also enormous. Many of those injured or killed are wage earners, leaving families destitute and without means of support. Loss of wages, property damage, and other factors affected by road traffic crashes represented 4.6% of the gross national product of the United States in 1994. In developing countries, road traffic crashes represent 3-5% of the GNP. The estimated annual cost of road traffic crashes in developing countries exceeds $100 billion (US). This amounts to nearly double the total combined development assistance these countries receive every year from bilateral and multi-lateral government organizations. Globally, the estimated annual costs of road crashes are $500 billion (US).
THIS PROBLEM IS PREVENTABLE
We have the tools needed to combat this epidemic. In the developed nations, proven methods such as enforcement of laws regarding driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, reducing speed limits, and requiring seat belts and restraints have shown significant reduction in traffic fatalities. Road design and road environment, vehicle design, and road safety standards are also strategies that successfully address traffic safety. For maximum impact on RTIs, a systems approach with multiple, scientifically proven prevention techniques must be employed. Education alone has been shown to be less effective, and often ineffective.
Proven interventions for developed countries require research, modification, and testing for developing countries. For example, developing countries face poorly designed and maintained roadways, unsafe vehicles, drivers under the influence of drugs or alcohol, lack of national policies, and inadequate enforcement. Success will require significant new resources supported by sustained political commitment.
CURRENT ATTENTION TO GLOBAL ROAD SAFETY
The World Health Organization (WHO) has developed a World Report on Road Traffic Injury Prevention released in April 2004. In concert with this effort, WHO has made “Road Safety” the theme of World Health Day on April 7, 2004 and developed informational and educational programs worldwide focusing on road safety for a yearlong campaign. The momentum has also been fostered by a number of partners including the Permanent Mission of the Sultanate of Oman to the UN, WHO, the World Bank, United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the FIA Foundation for the Automobile and Society, the Bone and Joint Decade, Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT), Global Road Safety Partnership (GRSP) and the Task Force for Child Survival and Development who have formed a Global Road Safety Steering Committee to address global road traffic safety. The Task Force for Child Survival and Development serves as secretariat of this committee.
Through Steering Committee efforts, several important events are occurring in Global Road Safety:
March 24, 2004 – United Nations Technical Briefing
United Nations members were briefed on the global impact of road traffic injuries and the initiatives that can help reduce them. Speakers educated delegates on the problem and key components of the UN resolution to help reduce the burden of this global epidemic.
April 14, 2004 – United Nations General Assembly Meeting, New York City
Members of UN learned about the conclusions of the 2004 World Report on Road Traffic Injury Prevention released by the World Health Organization. Many country delegations from around the world also spoke at the session in support of the resolution for road safety. This General Assembly adopted the third UN resolution on global road safety.
April 15, 2004 – United Nations Stakeholder Meeting, New York City
This meeting was structured to mobilize action from road safety stakeholders and includes Governments, NGOs, Civil Society, advocacy groups and other key players expected to take a lead role in global road safety solutions.
BEYOND THE UN STAKEHOLDERS’ FORUM
Achieving significant progress and preventing a catastrophic increase in this epidemic requires both ongoing and complementary efforts. Following the multi-nation UN special session in April 2004, implementation should include:
- Awareness raising and political will: Methods of communicating among the nations and various organizations working on road safety will be developed, including a web site with links to resources, global and country-specific challenges and solutions, and an international message board.
- Country programs: After assessing their current system for addressing road safety, individual countries will develop their plans as a collaborative effort among the transportation, public health, healthcare, education and public safety segments of their society.
- Building a knowledge base: Gaps in knowledge about the incidence and severity of road traffic injuries in individual countries as well as each country’s capacity to prevent RTIs and treat the victims need to be researched, documented, and shared. Each country’s unique problems, capabilities and action plan needs to be researched and documented.
- Global partnership: Countries working to improve road traffic safety will benefit from leveraging resources by identifying common problems and solutions. This partnership will be coordinated at a global level by the UN and its agencies. The Steering Committee will provide support where needed.
To find out more about the Global Road safety Steering Committee, click here.