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World Health Day: Road safety is no accident!

World Health Organization calls for action to lower death and injury toll on the world’s roads

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Road crashes are the second leading cause of death globally among young people aged five to 29 and the third leading cause of death among people aged 30 to 44 years. Road crashes kill 1.2 million people every year and injure or disable as many as 50 million more. (See map and table for geographic and age-group data) Without immediate action to improve road safety, it is estimated that road traffic deaths will increase by 80% in low- and middle-income countries by 2020. A joint report launched by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Bank today demonstrates that much can be done to reduce the toll of deaths and injuries and that "Road Safety is no Accident".

“Thousands of people die on the world’s roads everyday. We are not talking about random events or ‘accidents’. We are talking about road crashes. The risks can be understood and therefore can be prevented,” said Dr LEE Jong-wook, Director-General, World Health Organization. “Road safety is no accident. We have the knowledge to act now. It is a question of political will,” he added.

The magnitude of this growing global public health crisis, the risk factors that lead to road traffic deaths and injuries and effective ways to prevent them are detailed in the World report on road traffic injury prevention. The report provides governments and other policy-makers, industry, nongovernmental organizations, international agencies and individuals with concrete recommendations to improve road safety.

Unlike in high-income countries where those most at risk of injury or death are drivers and passengers in cars, the people who are most at risk of being involved in a road traffic crash in low- and middle-income countries are pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists and users of informal modes of public transport.

Human and Economic cost

The human suffering caused by road crashes is huge – for every victim of a crash, there are family members, friends, and communities who must cope with the physical, psychological and economic consequences of the death, injury or disability of a loved one. Crash survivors and their families must cope with the painful and often long-term consequences of injury, disability and rehabilitation. In many cases, the cost of care, the loss of the primary breadwinner, funeral expenses, or the loss of income due to disability can drive a family into poverty.

The human suffering is in itself a reason to act now, but the economic impact is also significant. In low- and middle-income countries, the cost of road traffic injuries is estimated at US$ 65 billion, exceeding the total amount these countries receive in development assistance. Road traffic injuries cost countries between 1% and 2% of gross national product, amounting to US$ 518 billion every year.

Road traffic injury mortality rates
Source: Peden M et al (eds). World Report on Road Traffic Injury Prevention. Geneva, WHO, 2004.

Taking action makes a difference

However, many countries have already demonstrated that actions to improve road safety will protect people. Recent gains have been achieved in nations such as Colombia, Costa Rica, Ghana and Thailand. In past decades tens of thousands of lives have been saved in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United States of America and others countries in Western Europe. This success is attributed to improving the design of vehicles and roads and focusing on legislation, enforcement and sharing of information about the use of seat-belts, helmets, and child restraints and about the dangers of speed and drink-driving.

Among the report’s recommendations are the appointment of a lead agency in every country to coordinate multisectoral efforts, the preparation of national road safety strategies and plans of action with clear roles and objectives for each sector, and the implementation of proven interventions to prevent crashes and minimize injuries and their consequences. The report notes that road safety is a shared responsibility, and calls on the expertise of people across many sectors and disciplines, including public health professionals, health care providers, road and motor vehicle engineers, law enforcement officials and educators.

World Health Day 2004 logoWorld Health Day 2004 offers an historic opportunity to increase investment in road safety

French President Jacques Chirac to head key Paris event

For the first time in the history of the Organization, WHO has dedicated World Health Day 2004 to “Road Safety”. People in more than 100 countries are hosting hundreds of World Health Day events. These range from a road safety festival in Lebanon to theatre performances in public parks for children in Brazil and from a helmet fashion show in Viet Nam to the inauguration of a remembrance garden for victims in South Africa. Others events include conferences and seminars, award ceremonies, and the launch of road safety campaigns and a multi-million dollar international research programme on injury prevention.

Hosted by WHO and the Government of France, the key global World Health Day event takes place in Paris today as France has typified the approach WHO and the World Bank are advocating. A combination of political will and effective action reduced the deaths on the roads in France by 20% in 2003, saving 1,500 lives and preventing thousands of injuries. The event takes place at the Centre de conférences internationales Kléber with the participation of Dr LEE Jong-wook, WHO Director-General; Mr Jacques Chirac, President of France; Ministers of Health from the Czech Republic, France, Ghana and Nicaragua; Ministers of Transport from France, Oman, Slovakia and the United States of America; and 300 representatives of some of the world’s leading road safety organizations such as the Association for Safe International Road Travel (United States of America), the FIA Foundation for the Automobile and Society (United Kingdom), the Ligue contre la Violence Routière (France), the Swedish National Road Administration (Sweden) and the World Bank. This high-profile event will be the occasion for the global release of the World report on road traffic injury prevention.

On 14 April as an immediate follow up to World Health Day, the UN General Assembly will devote a session to discuss road safety for the very first time in its history.

“At the occasion of World Health Day 2004 WHO is ringing the alarm bell to draw attention to this global crisis. From small victim associations to the UN General Assembly, from governments to the private sector, the global response is huge. World Health Day will allow us to unite and take important additional steps towards ending the carnage on the world’s roads,” said Dr Etienne Krug, Director of the WHO’s Department of Injuries and Violence Prevention.

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For more information contact:

Ms Laura Sminkey
Telephone: +41 22 791 4547
Mobile phone: +41 79 249 3520
E-mail: sminkeyl@who.int