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WHO and FIA join efforts for road safety

Photo showing traffic congestion

Leaders from around the world will meet in London today in a joint effort to improve road safety and reduce road traffic related deaths. Among them, Gro Harlem Brundtland, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Max Mosley, President of the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), and ministers from several countries. With experts in road safety, they come together to expose the phenomenal increase in road traffic injuries in recent years.

In 2000, over 1.2 million people were killed due to road traffic incidents, making it the world’s 9th leading cause of death. By the year 2020 this figure is projected to nearly double. In addition to the staggering death rates, injuries due to road traffic crashes are a major drain on health and health care system resources. Data show that in some countries, 1 of every 10 hospital beds is occupied by a victim of a road traffic crash. Although car ownership is greater in industrialized than developing countries, studies show that in 2000, 90% of all traffic fatalities occurred in low- and middle- income societies. The majority of the victims of these incidents were people who will never be able to afford a car: pedestrians, cyclists and users of public transportation.

“The human suffering for victims of traffic-related injuries and their families is incalculable. In strict economic terms, the costs associated with surgery, prolonged hospitalisation and long-term rehabilitation for such victims, in addition to their lost productivity, represent tens of billions of dollars each year. These costs seriously compromise prospects for development” said Dr Brundtland. “We must multiply our efforts to prevent people from falling victim to road traffic collisions.”

The conference, hosted by the FIA Foundation for the Automobile and Society, will focus attention on the trend of rising road traffic injuries. “Poor road safety causes one of the greatest inequities in the world today. More than a million people – the vast majority in the poorest countries of the world – are being killed each year, often because unsuitable vehicles are being driven on unsuitable roads by poorly trained drivers. These are the forgotten victims of road crashes” said Mr Mosley.

Conference participants will also review proven strategies for reducing road traffic injuries. “The main obstacles for improving road safety are ignorance about the magnitude of the problem and its preventability” says Dr Etienne Krug, Director of the Department of Injuries and Violence Prevention, WHO. “If policy makers were fully aware of the gains to be achieved by implementing policies on issues such as drunk driving, speeding, motorcycle helmets, and visibility, many lives could be saved.”

Looking ahead, the Director-General of WHO has dedicated World Health Day 2004 to “Safe Roads”, creating an opportunity to draw the general public’s attention to the growing but preventable problem of road traffic injuries. This day will also be an occasion to launch the joint WHO/World Bank World Report on Road Traffic Injury Prevention - providing facts on the global magnitude of the problem and pointing out directions for road traffic injury prevention.

For more information contact:

Ms Laura Sminkey
Telephone: +41 22 791 4547
Mobile phone: +41 79 249 3520