World road safety goals

Road Traffic Fatality Rates per 100,000 in population. Courtesy of “Global Status Report on Road Safety, 2015”

According to the World Health Organization’s recently released “Global Status Report on Road Safety 2015,” the pace of making roads safer worldwide has been too slow.

Countries must take urgent action to reach the goals set forth in WHO’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. If achieved, these goals would cut in half the number of deaths and injuries from road crashes worldwide by 2020.

In an article about the 340-page report, Niall McCarthy writes for Forbes that in the United States, 31% of all road fatalities are linked to alcohol consumption. Worldwide, more than 1.2 million people lose their lives annually in road accidents. However, the report says, “Although road traffic injuries have been a leading cause of mortality for many years, most traffic crashes are both predictable and preventable.”

Decade of Action for Road Safety

The United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution in 2010 that established the “Decade of Action for Road Safety” from 2011 to 2020. The resolution asked member countries to take necessary steps to prevent road accidents, and said the WHO would monitor the progress — or lack of progress — via its “Global Status Report on Road Safety” series. The 2015 report, the third in the series, directs attention to where countries need to take more action.

One piece of good news is that the number of worldwide road traffic deaths has not risen, especially in relation to increases in motorization and population, which seems to indicate that  actions countries have been taking to prevent road crashes have been effective, at least in preventing increases.

Road Injuries Greater in Poorer Countries

Road injuries and deaths are greater in low-income countries. The rates are more than double the rates in high-income countries. In addition, low-income countries have a disproportionate number of road deaths in relation to their lower level of motorization. Africa has the highest rate of road-crash deaths and Europe the lowest, particularly in its higher-income countries.

The report praises 17 countries that have changed their laws to reflect best-practice standards in addressing the following five risk factors during the past three years:

  • Speeding
  • Drunk driving
  • The failure to use helmets
  • The failure to use seat-belts
  • The failure to use child restraints properly or at all

The most progress has been made in seat-belt laws: 105 countries, which represent 67% of world population, have laws that meet best-practice standards. More countries must have laws that meet the standards in all five areas to save many more lives.

Need for Safe Vehicles, Infrastructure

In addition to the five areas mentioned, the report also stresses the need for safe infrastructure and vehicles. Fewer than half of all countries adopt even minimum standards regarding vehicle safety, and such standards are notably lacking in many middle-income countries that are large players in car manufacturing. For instance, although road infrastructure is designed with the needs of motorists in mind, the fact remains that 49% of all road traffic deaths occur among bicyclists, pedestrians, and motorcyclists.

One of the report’s sustainable development goals is:

By 2030, provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety, notably by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, women, children, persons with disabilities and older persons.