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Road traffic injuries

Fact sheet N°358
Updated October 2015

Key facts

  • About 1.25 million people die each year as a result of road traffic crashes.
  • Road traffic injuries are the leading cause of death among young people, aged 15–29 years.
  • 90% of the world's fatalities on the roads occur in low- and middle-income countries, even though these countries have approximately half of the world's vehicles.
  • Half of those dying on the world’s roads are “vulnerable road users”: pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists.
  • Without action, road traffic crashes are predicted to rise to become the 7th leading cause of death by 2030.
  • The newly adopted 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’s has set an ambitious road safety target of halving the global number of deaths and injuries from road traffic crashes by 2020.

Every year the lives of approximately 1.25 million people are cut short as a result of a road traffic crash. Between 20 and 50 million more people suffer non-fatal injuries, with many incurring a disability as a result of their injury.

Road traffic injuries cause considerable economic losses to victims, their families, and to nations as a whole. These losses arise from the cost of treatment (including rehabilitation and incident investigation) as well as reduced/lost productivity (e.g. in wages) 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.

There are few global estimates of the costs of injury, but research carried out in 2010 suggests that road traffic crashes cost countries approximately 3% of their gross national product. This figure rises to 5% in some low- and middle-income countries.

Road traffic injuries have been neglected from the global health agenda for many years, despite being predictable and largely preventable. Evidence from many countries shows that dramatic successes in preventing road traffic crashes can be achieved through concerted efforts that involve, but are not limited to, the health sector.

Who is at risk?

Socioeconomic status

More than 90% of deaths that result from road traffic injuries occur in low- and middle-income countries. Road traffic injury death rates are highest in the low- and middle-income countries of the African region. Even within high-income countries, people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are more likely to be involved in a road traffic crashes.


People aged between 15 and 44 years account for 48% of global road traffic deaths.


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 men. Among young drivers, young males under the age of 25 years are almost 3 times as likely to be killed in a car crash as young females.

Risk factors and what can be done to address them

Road traffic injuries can be prevented. Governments need to take action to address road safety in a holistic manner, that requires involvement from multiple sectors (transport, police, health, education) and that addresses the safety of roads, vehicles, and road users themselves.

Effective interventions include designing safer infrastructure and incorporating road safety features into land-use and transport planning; improving the safety features of vehicles; and improving post-crash care for victims of road crashes. Interventions that target road user behaviour are equally important, such as setting and enforcing laws relating to key risk factors, and raising public awareness.

Key risk factors


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.

  • An adult pedestrian’s risk of dying is less than 20% if struck by a car at 50 km/h and almost 60% if hit at 80 km/h.
  • 30 km/h speed zones can reduce the risk of a crash and are recommended in areas where vulnerable road users are common like residential and schools areas.
  • Apart from reducing road traffic injuries, lower average traffic speeds can have other positive effects on health outcomes (e.g. by reducing respiratory problems associated with car emissions).

Drinking and driving increases both the risk of a crash and the likelihood that death or serious injury will result.

  • The risk of being involved in a crash increases significantly above a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.04 g/dl.
  • Laws that establish BACs of 0.05g/dl or below are effective at reducing the number of alcohol-related crashes.
  • Enforcing sobriety checkpoints and random breath testing can lead to reductions in alcohol-related crashes of about 20% and have shown to be very cost-effective.
  • Young and novice drivers are subject to an increased risk of road traffic crashes, when under the influence of alcohol, compared to older and more experienced drivers.
  • Laws that establish lower BACs (≤0.02 g/dl) for young and novice drivers can lead to reductions in the number of crashes involving young people by up to 24%.
Motorcycle helmets
  • Wearing a motorcycle helmet correctly can reduce the risk of death by almost 40% and the risk of severe injury by over 70%.
  • When motorcycle helmet laws are enforced effectively, helmet wearing rates can increase to over 90%.
  • Requiring helmets to meet recognized safety standards ensures that helmets can effectively reduce the impact of a collision to the head in the event of a crash.
Seat-belts and child restraints
  • Wearing a seat-belt reduces the risk of a fatality among front-seat passengers by 40–50% and of rear-seat passengers by between 25–75%.
  • Mandatory seat-belt laws and their enforcement have been shown to be very effective at increasing seat-belt wearing rates.
  • If correctly installed and used, child restraints reduce deaths among infants by approximately 70% and deaths among small children by between 54% and 80%.
Distracted driving

There are many types of distractions that can lead to impaired driving, but recently there has been a marked increase around the world in the use of mobile phones by drivers that is becoming a growing concern for road safety. The distraction caused by mobile phones can impair driving performance.Drivers using mobile phones may have: slower reaction times (notably braking reaction time, but also reaction to traffic signals), impaired ability to keep in the correct lane, and shorter following distances.

  • Text messaging also results in considerably reduced driving performance, with young drivers at particular risk of the effects of distraction resulting from this use.
  • Drivers using a mobile phone are approximately 4 times more likely to be involved in a crash than when a driver does not use a phone. Hands-free phones are not much safer than hand-held phone sets.
  • While there is little concrete evidenceon how to reduce mobile phone use while driving, governments need to be proactive. Actions that can be taken include: adopting legislative measures, launching public awareness campaigns, and regularly collecting data on distracted driving to better understand the nature of this problem.

WHO response

Coordinating the Decade of Action for Road Safety

In 2010 a United Nations General Assembly resolution proclaimed a Decade of Action for Road Safety (2011–2020). This Decade was launched in May 2011 in over 110 countries, with the aim of saving millions of lives by improving the safety of roads and vehicles; enhancing the behaviour of road users; and improving emergency services.

WHO is the lead agency – in collaboration with the United Nations regional commissions – for road safety within the UN system. WHO also chairs the United Nations Road Safety Collaboration and serves as the secretariat for the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020. WHO plays a key role in guiding global efforts by continuing to advocate for road safety at the highest political levels; compiling and disseminating good practices in prevention, data collection and trauma care; sharing information with the public on risks and how to reduce these risks; and drawing attention to the need for increased funding.

Monitoring progress through global status reports

WHO’s “Global status report on road safety 2015” presents information on road safety from 180 countries. This report is the third in a series and provides an overview of the road safety situation globally. The Global status reports are the official tool for monitoring the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011–2020.

Providing technical support to countries

WHO works across the spectrum in countries, from primary prevention work to rehabilitation of those who have been involved in road traffic crashes. As such, WHO works in a multisectoral manner, in partnership with national stakeholders from a variety of sectors such as health, police, transport, education and other parties involved in road traffic injury prevention, including nongovernmental organizations and academics.

WHO partners with the Bloomberg Initiative for Global Road Safety (BIGRS) 2015-2019, which seeks to reduce fatalities and injuries from road traffic crashes in low- and middle-income countries and cities by strengthening road safety legislation at the national level and implementing proven road safety interventions at the city level. WHO participates in the programme in 4 countries – China, Philippines, Thailand and United Republic of Tanzania – by providing technical support in the areas of legislation and media training.

WHO also supports road safety in other ways - for example, in improving safety around schools in Malawi and Mozambique, and in helping improve emergency services in Kenya and India and by improving data collection systems (both in the health and police sectors). WHO will continue to support these and other national road safety initiatives leading to sustainable government programmes.

WHO also provides guidelines that highlight good practice in road traffic injury prevention, and then supports governments to implement the suggested programmes or policies. For example, a good practice manual on increasing motorcycle helmet use and reducing drink-driving has been implemented in a number of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries, while a guide to improving pre- hospital care will be used in Kenya and India. Capacity within countries is developed through the implementation of these guides as well as through direct training in different areas of injury prevention (for example, through courses on injury surveillance and on improving trauma care services).