Road Safety From A Global Perspective

On Sunday, November 16, the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston hosted an observance of A Day of Remembrance for victims of traffic accidents. In 2012, 863 people lost their lives on South Carolina highways, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety: 38% were occupants of passenger cars; 27% were in pickup trucks or SUVs; 1% were in large trucks; 13% were motorcyclists; 14% were pedestrians; and 2% were on bicycles.

But the MUSC day of remembrance was not just a local event. The third Sunday of November each year is the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims. Starting with a 1995 advocacy movement under the umbrella of the European Federation of Road Traffic Victims, the initiative has increased to include countries on every continent around the world. Promotion by the World Health Organization (WHO) led to an endorsement of the World Day by the United Nations in 2005.WHO issued a Global Status Report on road safety in 2013. It analyzes information from 182 countries, accounting for almost 99% of the world’s population. Here are some of the more interesting facts about traffic accidents, from a global perspective:

  • 1.24 million people lose their lives in traffic accidents each year – that’s about 3,400 each day.
  • Road accidents are the #1 cause of death among those aged 15-29.
  • Only 28 countries, covering 7% of the world’s population, have comprehensive road safety laws on five key risk factors: drinking and driving, speeding, and failing to use motorcycle helmets, seat-belts, and child restraints.
  • Although middle-income countries have only half of the world’s vehicles, they have 80% of the world’s road traffic deaths. For example, the road traffic death rate per 100,000 population in Dominican Republic is 41.7; Thailand, 38.1; Iran, 34.1; Nigeria, 33.7 – compared to 11.4 for the U.S., a high-income country.
  • 50% of all road traffic deaths are among pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists
  • 89 countries now have a drinking-driving law based on a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .05 (all U.S. states have adopted a .08 limit).
  • 155 countries have comprehensive motorcycle helmet laws which cover drivers and passengers, on all roads and with all engine types (U.S. state laws vary).
  • The economic cost of road traffic crashes is estimated to be $518 billion in U.S. dollars, costing countries between 1–3% of their gross national product.

The main take-away, of course, is that way too many people lose their lives in tragic road accidents. But world leadership is not standing idly by. In 2010 a United Nations General Assembly resolution proclaimed a Decade of Action for Road Safety (2011–2020). This Decade was launched in May 2011 in over 110 countries, with the aim of saving millions of lives by improving the safety of roads and vehicles; improving the behavior of road users; and upgrading emergency services.

In 2010, WHO and five other consortium partners received funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies to further road safety in ten countries — Brazil, Cambodia, China, Egypt, India, Kenya, Mexico, the Russian Federation, Turkey and Viet Nam. They’re working to increase safety around schools in Malawi and Mozambique and to improve emergency services in Kenya and India.

Each one of us can do our part to increase road safety and protect those who share the road with us. So many things are commonsense actions – obey the speed limit, wear seatbelts, drive sober, don’t text, watch out for pedestrians and motorcyclists. What do you need to do to help reduce traffic deaths? As writer and activist Wendell Berry said, “The right local questions and answers will be the right global ones.”

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