World’s Transport Ministers Pledge to Halve Road Injury Deaths – Leading Killer of Children and Youths 
Rush hour traffic in Ho Chi Minh City, one of the cities supported by Bloomberg Philanthropy’s Global Road Safety Partnership

The world’s transport ministers pledged to cut road traffic deaths and injuries by 50% by 2030, as part of a political declaration adopted at the first-ever United Nations High Level Meeting on Global Road Safety, which opened Thursday in New York City.  

The debate came as a new Lancet series suggested that some half a million lives could be saved by  targeting just four key risk factors for road injuries – speeding, drunk driving, lack of helmet, and seatbelt use –  in 185 countries could save up to half a million lives a year.

Worldwide, road crashes currently kill around 1.3 million people each year – more than 2 every minute, and more than 90% occur in low- and middle-income countries, according to the Lancet study. Road injuries are the leading killer of children and young people globally. 

Despite years of lip service to the issue, the burden of adolescent deaths in poor countries has only grown.  Almost half of adolescents killed by road injuries in 2019 lived in low-income countries, up from around a quarter in 1990, according to the Lancet study.  The study estimates that routinely wearing helmets and seat-belts, obeying speed limits and avoiding drunk-driving could save between 347,000 and 540,000 lives worldwide every year.

Low and middle-income countries experience  disproportionate deaths, due in part to the preponderance of unsafe vehicles on the road as well as lack of safety belts, helmets and speed controls. But there is also a dearth of safe cycling and walking infrastructures for non-motorized users who are often the victims of a crash.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres

Vital opportunity 

Today’s meeting is a vital opportunity to tackle this silent epidemic,” said UN Secretary General  Antonio Guterres,” speaking at the opening of the UN high level meeting. “We need to address this leading killer of young people.”

Gutteres added that traffic accidents also are a key obstacle to sustainable development, costing 2-5% of GDP in developing countries every year and pushing “entire families into poverty due to the loss of a breadwinner or the costs associated with lost income and prolonged medical care.”

Along with technological and regulatory approaches, Guterres called upon transport ministries to adopt “a more holistic approach to road safety,” with increased financing for more sustainable mobility and greener urban planning, which can advance both safety as well as climate mitigation goals. 

“Traffic crashes caused nearly 1.3 million preventable deaths and an estimated 50 million injuries each year, making it the leading killer of children and young people worldwide. And Jamaica has not been spared,” declared the country’s Minister of Transport, Audley Shaw, as over a dozen countries took to the podium in the opening session of the UN debate.  “We have observed a steady increase in fatality rates since 2012. Fatalities have increased on average by 10%. 

“It has been generally accepted that developing nations despite, having fewer vehicles than developed countries have a larger portion of fatalities globally. The socio- economic impact on developing states is devastating,” he said, calling for those norms to change.

Unsafe road infrastructure

Historically, road safety measures have focused on safer vehicles and users.  

Particularly in developing countries, transport development has focused overwhelmingly on roads for vehicles, ignoring even the presence of pedestrians and other users on roads, experts say.

Road safety programmes have also tended to focus on private vehicles – neglecting the importance of public transport, including the creation of public transport lanes that can ease private vehicle congestion and promote safety. 

Increasingly, evidence points to the importance of urban design as a critical part of the mix, including safe spaces for pedestrians and cyclists. Measures such as footpaths, cycling lanes, safe crossing points, as well as “traffic calming” tactics like speed bumps and stricter limits in cities are therefore critical to reducing the risk of injury among these road users, says WHO

Decade of Road Safety 

In September 2020, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution to proclaim the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2021–2030. WHO and the UN regional commissions, in cooperation with other partners in the UN Road Safety Collaboration, have developed a Global Plan for the Decade of Action, which was released in October 2021.  

The plan calls for continued improvements in the design of roads and vehicles, enhancement of laws and law enforcement, and provision of timely, life-saving emergency care for the injured. In addition, it sought to promote more actively “healthy and environmentally sound modes of transport” that can positively impact child health, gender, poverty and the environment. 

Image Credits: Flickr/ M M.

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