WHO updates fact sheet on Road Traffic Injuries (7 December 2018)

The World Health Organization (WHO) has updated its fact sheet on Road Traffic Injuries.

Background Information:

In the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), world leaders have committed to halve the number of deaths from road crashes by 2020.

Key Messages:

Approximately 1.35 million people die each year as a result of road traffic crashes. Between 20 and 50 million more people suffer non-fatal injuries, with many incurring a disability as a result of their injury. 

In addition to the injuries and disabilities resulting from road traffic crashes, the safety of roads (or lack thereof) also impacts other public health issues as it contributes to inactivity. People are less likely to walk, cycle, or use public transportation when conditions are unsafe and this has a bearing on other leading causes of death. These include

  • ischaemic heart disease,
  • stroke,
  • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and
  • diabetes,

while increasing motorization has also been linked with respiratory illnesses.

Simultaneously preventing road traffic deaths and encouraging active travel in safe environments will contribute to reducing the overall burden of preventable deaths.


Road traffic injuries are now the 8th leading cause of death worldwide, killing more people than HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and diarrhoeal diseases.


Road traffic injuries are the leading cause of death for children and young adults aged 5-29 years.

From a young age, males are more likely to be involved in road traffic crashes than females.

Males under the age of 25 years are almost 3 times as likely to be killed in a road traffic crash as young females.


More than half of all road traffic deaths are among vulnerable road users: pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists:

  • Pedestrians and cyclists: 26% of all deaths, while
  • Those using motorized two- and three-wheelers: 28%
  • Car occupants: 29% of all deaths, and
  • Unidentified road users: 17%.

Africa has the highest proportion of pedestrian and cyclist mortalities with 44% of deaths. In South-East Asia and the Western Pacific, the majority of deaths are among riders of motorized two and three-wheelers, who represent 43% and 36% of all deaths respectively.


93% of the world’s fatalities on the roads occur in low- and middle-income countries, even though these countries have approximately 60% of the world’s vehicles.

Even within high-income countries, people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are more likely to be involved in road traffic crashes.


Road traffic crashes cost most countries 3% of their gross domestic product. These costs  arise from the cost of treatment as well as lost productivity for those killed or disabled by their injuries, and for family members who need to take time off work or school to care for the injured.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has set an ambitious target of halving the global number of deaths and injuries from road traffic crashes by 2020. At the current rate, we are unlikely to achieve that goal.

Risk Factors:


  • Every 1% increase in mean speed produces a 4% increase in the fatal crash risk and a 3% increase in the serious crash risk. The death risk for pedestrians hit by car fronts rises rapidly (4.5 times from 50 km/h to 65 km/h).
  • In car-to-car side impacts the fatality risk for car occupants is 85% at 65 km/h.

Driving under the influence of alcohol and other psychoactive substances

  • In the case of drink-driving, the risk of a road traffic crash starts at low levels of blood alcohol concentration (BAC) and increases significantly when the driver’s BAC is ≥ 0.04 g/dl.
  • The risk of a fatal crash occurring among those who have used amphetamines is about 5 times the risk of someone who hasn’t.

Non-use of motorcycle helmets, seat-belts, and child restraints

  • Correct helmet use can lead to a 42% reduction in the risk of fatal injuries and a 69% reduction in the risk of head injuries.
  • Wearing a seat-belt reduces the risk of death among drivers and front seat occupants by 45 – 50%, and the risk of death and serious injuries among rear seat occupants by 25%.
  • The use of child restraints can lead to a 60% reduction in deaths.

Distracted driving

The distraction caused by mobile phones is a growing concern for road safety.

  • Drivers using mobile phones are approximately 4 times more likely to be involved in a crash than drivers not using a mobile phone. Using a phone while driving slows reaction times (notably braking reaction time, but also reaction to traffic signals), and makes it difficult to keep in the correct lane, and to keep the correct following distances.
  • Hands-free phones are not much safer than hand-held phone sets, and texting considerably increases the risk of a crash.

Unsafe road infrastructure

Measures such as footpaths, cycling lanes, safe crossing points, and other traffic calming measures can be critical to reducing the risk of injury among pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists.

Unsafe vehicles

There are a number of UN regulations on vehicle safety that, if applied to countries’ manufacturing and production standards, would potentially save many lives. These include

  • requiring vehicle manufacturers to meet front and side impact regulations,
  • to include electronic stability control (to prevent over-steering) and
  • to ensure airbags and seat-belts are fitted in all vehicles.

Without these basic standards the risk of traffic injuries – both to those in the vehicle and those out of it – is considerably increased.

Inadequate post-crash care

Delays in detecting and providing care for those involved in a road traffic crash increase the severity of injuries. Improving post-crash care requires

  • ensuring access to timely prehospital care, and
  • improving the quality of both prehospital and hospital care, such as through specialist training programmes.

Inadequate law enforcement of traffic laws

If traffic laws on drink-driving, seat-belt wearing, speed limits, helmets, and child restraints are not enforced, or are perceived as not being enforced it is likely they will not be complied with and therefore will have very little chance of influencing behaviour.

Effective enforcement includes establishing, regularly updating, and enforcing laws at the national, municipal, and local levels that address the above mentioned risk factors. It includes also the definition of appropriate penalties.

Useful Links:

Link to the updated fact sheet:


Link to Global Status Report on Road Safety 2018 (English) [PDF]:


Link to data visualization based on the Global Status Report on Road Safety 2018:



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