The World Health Organization (WHO) has recently updated its fact sheet on Road Traffic Injuries.
Road traffic injuries cause considerable economic losses to individuals, their families, and to nations as a whole. These losses 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. Road traffic crashes cost most countries 3% of their gross domestic product.
Approximately 1.35 million people die each year as a result of road traffic crashes.
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.
More than half of all road traffic deaths are among vulnerable road users:
- cyclists, and
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.
Road traffic injury death rates are highest in the African region. Even within high-income countries, people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are more likely to be involved in road traffic crashes.
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. About three quarters (73%) of all road traffic deaths occur among young males under the age of 25 years who are almost 3 times as likely to be killed in a road traffic crash as young females.
- An increase in average speed is directly related both to the likelihood of a crash occurring and to the severity of the consequences of the crash. For example, 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 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.
- In the case of drug-driving, the risk of incurring a road traffic crash is increased to differing degrees depending on the psychoactive drug used. For example, 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 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.
- 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 these road users.
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.
Care of injuries after a crash has occurred is extremely time-sensitive: delays of minutes can make the difference between life and death.
Improving post-crash care requires ensuring access to timely pre-hospital care, and improving the quality of both pre-hospital 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, they cannot bring about the expected reduction in road traffic fatalities and injuries related to specific behaviours.
If traffic laws 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 also includes the definition of appropriate penalties.
Link to the updated factsheet:
Link to the related WHO news release:
Link to WHO Save Lives page: