The World Health Organisation (WHO) has released a report that highlights that the leading cause of deaths worldwide is still road traffic injuries – especially so among children and young adults aged five-29 years – with an annual fatality count running into 1.35 million.
“These deaths are an unacceptable price to pay for mobility,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general, World Health Organisation. “There is no excuse for inaction. This is a problem with proven solutions. This report is a call for governments and partners to take much greater action to implement these measures.”
The 2018 report on road safety documents that in spite of an increase in the overall number of deaths, the world death rate (in relation to the increasing world population) has stabilised in recent years. This suggests that the existing road safety efforts in some middle- and high-income countries may have helped mitigate the situation.
“Road safety is an issue that does not receive anywhere near the attention it deserves – and it really is one of our great opportunities to save lives around the world,” said Michael R Bloomberg, founder and CEO of Bloomberg Philanthropies and WHO global ambassador for non-communicable diseases and Injuries. “We know which interventions work. Strong policies and enforcement, smart road design, and powerful public awareness campaigns can save millions of lives over the coming decades.”
The global body has found that in scenarios where progress has been made, it is largely attributed to better legislation around key risks – such as speeding; drinking and driving; failing to use seatbelts; motorcycle helmets and child restraints; safer infrastructure like sidewalks and dedicated lanes for cyclists and motorcyclists; improved vehicle standards such as those that mandate electronic stability control and advanced braking; and enhanced post-crash care.
The WHO study finds that these measures have contributed to reductions in road traffic deaths in 48 middle- and high-income countries. However, not a single low-income country has demonstrated a reduction in their overall mortality rate – largely because these measures are missing. In fact, the risk of a death due to road traffic remains three times higher in low-income countries than in high-income countries. The highest rate at present is in Africa (26.6 per 1,00,000 people) and the lowest in Europe (9.3 per 1,00,000 people).
On the other hand, ever since the previous edition of the report was made public, three regions of the world have reported a visible decline in road traffic death rates – the Americas, Europe and the Western Pacific.
The situation in India
While India reported 1,50,785 road fatalities in 2016, WHO estimates 2,99,091 people (almost double) lost their lives due to road accidents – translating to 22.6 lives lost per 1,00,000 people.
There has been some positive development, though – the report finds that the combination of new regulations and the Global NCAP's 'Safer Cars for India' project is raising consumer demand for key safety features in their vehicles, such as airbags. This demand acts as a strong catalyst for improved safety design by the automobile industry.
The report finds that new vehicle models in the country have not only complied with the new standards but have also achieved good scores in Global NCAP tests — which has become more stringent. WHO says that the next challenge for India is to accelerate use of electronic stability control; which is currently fitted in over 70 percent of new passenger cars worldwide has yet to be introduced in more than 90 percent of new cars in India.
The report states that the variations in road traffic deaths are also reflected by the type of road user. Globally, pedestrians and cyclists account for 26 percent of all road traffic deaths, with the figure being as high as 44 percent in Africa and 36 percent in the Eastern Mediterranean. The motorcycle riders and passengers account for 28 percent of all road-traffic deaths, but this proportion is higher in some regions – for instance, south-east Asia is at 43 percent and while the Western Pacific stands at 36 percent.
Dr Ghebreyesus said, "In the Sustainable Development Goals, world leaders have committed to halve the number of deaths from road crashes by 2020. This report shows that three years on, far too little progress has been made towards this goal. There is an urgent need to scale up evidence-based interventions and investment. Development is an opportunity for low- and middle-income countries to avoid the costly mistakes made in the past by high-income countries."
A safer future
"We need to create cities and transport systems that reduce reliance on cars. We must apply the lessons we have learned about safe road design. With the right leadership and investment, countries can build in the safeguards and best practices to save lives. Experience shows that sustainable road safety must be planned and requires long-term investment and appropriate management capacity for effective delivery. International organisations, donors, public and the private sectors need to work together to make things happen," added Dr Ghebreyesus.
The report said that the presented data shows progress in important areas such as legislation, vehicle standards and improved access to post-crash care. However, the pace of progress has not been fast enough to compensate for rising population and rapid motorisation of transport seen in many parts of the world. At this rate, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) target of 3.6 – to halve road traffic deaths and injuries by 2020 – are impossible to meet without some drastic action being taken.