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WHO: Better Laws Needed to Reduce Road Fatalities

  • Lisa Schlein

A new study by the World Health Organization finds that 1.25 million people die every year from road traffic crashes. The report says many of these fatalities are preventable.

The World Health Organization reports the number of yearly road traffic deaths has remained stagnant for the past few years. The U.N. agency says the number is not going down because few countries have comprehensive road safety laws that could prevent and reduce fatalities and injuries.

Without action to reverse this man-made problem, the World Health Organization predicts that about 1.9 million lives will be lost on the roads each year by 2020.

The study finds only 28 countries, covering just seven percent of the world’s population, have legislation covering all five main risk factors. These include drinking and driving, speeding, wearing seat belts and motorcycle helmets, and using child restraints.

WHO Director of Injuries and Violence Prevention Etienne Krug said that about half of all road traffic deaths involve pedestrians, cyclists and motorcycle riders.

“We have not invested enough in road policies or transportation policies that protect these kind of road users. Seventy-nine countries have policies to separate pedestrians and cyclists from high-speed traffic," said Krug. "So, again we know that the big proportion of those who die on the roads are these vulnerable road users, as they call them. But, most countries do not have the policies in place to protect them.”

The report says most of those who are killed in road traffic crashes are between the ages of 15 and 44 years, and 77 percent are male.

Krug said higher-income countries are improving most in reducing deaths and injuries. In Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia and Latin America, however, the situation is getting worse.

“It is also linked to the fact that... in those countries we can see rapid economic development. We see new roads being built, lots of cars being imported, new drivers taking the road and this is not matched with the necessary safety measures in terms of getting a driver’s license, in terms of making sure that the infrastructure is up to it, the quality of the vehicles," said Krug. "In an African village where there was a dirt road, suddenly a new tarmac road is being built, the vehicles drive four or five times higher than they used to be driving through that village. Nothing is done to facilitate walking on the side of this road where people used to play on that road."

The World Health Organization says the African region has the highest death toll and the European region the lowest. Statistics show Africa has 24.1 fatalities per 100,000 people, compared to 10.3 deaths per 100,000 in Europe.