GENEVA - Every year, more than 1.3 million people die in road traffic crashes and 50 million are injured. One person dies every 24 seconds because of a crash.
U.N. agencies are now urging policymakers to lower speed limits in a bid to cut traffic deaths and injuries. A campaign to get people to “slow down on the roads” will be launched Monday at the start of the United Nations Global Road Safety Week.
The U.N. says car crash injuries are the eighth leading cause of death globally for all age groups. It is also the leading cause of death among children and young adults between the ages of five and 29.
The focus of this year’s Global Road Safety Week is to encourage policymakers to drop speed limits to 30 kilometers an hour in cities where cyclists and pedestrians interact closely with car traffic.
The head of security and mobility at the World Health Organization, Nhan Tran, says reducing the speed limit to 30 kilometers per hour in city streets will save lives.
“Most people, most cyclists, most pedestrians will survive if they are hit by a car traveling at 30 kilometers per hour or 20 miles per hour. Beyond that speed limit, the risk of death becomes much higher and that is why we consider 30 kilometers per hour or 20 miles per hour is safe speed because it means that most people will survive,” he said.
Slower speed, Tran said, has other benefits in making cities more livable, noting that cars are a big source of carbon dioxide emissions. He said slower speed will result in a significant drop in emissions, which will improve air quality.
Since early last year, Tran said COVID-19 lockdowns and an increase in the number of people working from home has led to a marked decrease in the number of people driving. However, he added, this has not resulted in fewer traffic deaths.
“Although we have observed a reduction in the amount of traffic and, in fact, in the amount of crashes, what we have seen is that there has been an increase in severity of crashes because the roads have been empty due to confinement and lockdown and people have taken that as an opportunity to actually speed. … And they are taking the opportunity to drive faster and, therefore, we are seeing more fatal crashes too,” Tran said.
The WHO reports Africa is the region with the highest number of road traffic fatalities in the world, with a rate of about 26 per 100,000 population. This, against 10 fatalities per 100,000 in the Europe region.