Traffic crashes have become a global epidemic1. Fortunately, government authorities and NGOs around the world are working hard with a combination of awareness, behavior and infrastructure strategies to reverse this deadly trend through traffic safety initiatives.
If you live in a low-income country, traffic crashes are one of the top ten causes of death. If you live in Costa Rica, considered an upper middle-income country by the World Bank2, you’re more likely to die in a traffic accident than from liver or stomach cancer3. Even if you live in the U.S., auto accidents kill more people than pancreatic cancer, liver or heart disease, violence, suicide or any other injury4.
Motor vehicle accident statistics are staggering. According to the World Health Organization (WHO):
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Progress is being made to reduce this toll. Governments and organizations—such as the United Nations, the World Bank, the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), World Resources Institute (WRI), International Road Federation (IRF), Bloomberg Philanthropies, the FIA High Level Panel (HLP) for Road Safety, and many more—are working to improve road safety around the globe.
The UN Decade of Action for Road Safety initiative encourages governments to develop programs to improve road user behavior through campaigns that increase awareness of road safety risks and the need for seatbelts and helmets and reduce drunk driving, speeding and other risky behaviors.
“Toward Zero Deaths” is the U.S. contribution to this international effort. U.S. transportation leaders are providing a consistent strategic platform for state and federal agencies, private industry and others to develop traffic safety plans. These strategies involve increasing safety-belt and car seat use, improving traffic safety laws and creating targeted enforcement, technology, driver-education and public information campaigns.
In 2015, WHO performed the first broad assessment of road safety in 178 countries using data from surveys conducted in 2008. In its Global Status Report on Road Safety 2015, pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists were identified as those most vulnerable to road accidents, comprising almost half of all deaths on the world’s roads. Only 75 countries (page 30) had national road safety strategies with specific targets, including identifying dangerous roads and the engineering countermeasures needed to make them safer.
Just 29 percent of participating countries had urban speed limits aligned with best practices (page 22, 47 countries of 180 participating countries) and only 34 countries had drunk-driving laws using the alcohol limit recommended by WHO (a BAC limit of less than or equal to 0.05 g/dl) (page 30). The report also noted that:
The worldwide traffic safety crisis is due, in part, to rapid increases in motorization without sufficient improvement in road safety and land-use planning. International actions from non-governmental organizations are addressing traffic deaths and accidents through a variety of means that address infrastructure, including:
Awareness, resources, advocacy and education. In India, the World Resources Institute (WRI) works to improve road safety awareness through workshops and training for civil society groups and trucking and taxi associations intended to gain support for new vehicle safety legislation. The India Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill of 2016, approved in 2017, is expected to save 300,000 lives by 2020, setting an example for road safety worldwide.
The nonprofit International Road Federation offers information resources, advocacy services and continuing education programs in more than 70 countries, as well as training in best practices for road design, highway projects, “smart” mobility, design for safety and network asset management.
Designing and transforming roads. True to its motto, “Change Streets, Change the World,” the Global Designing Cities Initiative (GDCI) works in partnership with NACTO to help cities design environmentally sustainable roads that improve mobility and economic development while promoting public health, safety and quality of life. Launched in 2014 and supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies, GDCI focuses on urban streets. In one recent project, GDCI worked with Ethiopian officials and local engineering, architecture, construction and art students to transform an extremely dangerous Addis Ababa intersection into a safe and colorful public area with clearly defined traffic paths and ample pedestrian space.
In addition, the Bloomberg Philanthropies Initiative for Global Road Safety (BIGRS) is dedicating $250 million over 12 years (2015-2027) to world road safety organizations to implement proven road-safety activities. A major portion of these funds are targeted for shoulder widening, medians and barriers, controlled crosswalks, lane marking and separation and intersection improvement. One highly successful BIGRS project was a pop-up street transformation in Sao Paulo. In five hours, BIGRS, working with NACTO-GDCI teams, transformed the city’s most dangerous intersection into a pedestrian-friendly, reduced-speed zone with average vehicle speeds reduced by 30 percent.
Loans to implement road safety programs. The World Bank’s Global Road Safety Facility (GRSF) initiative provides interest-free loans to low- and middle-income countries to help them implement affordable road safety programs. As of 2016, GRSF had committed $411 million to 57 projects in 38 countries. Their recent activities include improving road safety and management capacity in Paraguay, Tanzania, Romania, Nepal, Morocco, Brazil, Mexico and several Pacific Islands, as well as improved road infrastructure in Ukraine.
Any effort to reduce road injury rates relies on the ability to gauge and mitigate situations that contribute to traffic accidents. According to the U.S. Federal Highway Administration, a successful transportation plan should include the 4 Es of safety:
As the number of vehicles on roads worldwide increase, the number of people injured and killed in traffic will continue to rise – unless governments and organizations work together toward well-considered action. Road deaths and injuries may never be eliminated, but by incorporating the 4 Es of safety in road safety plans, they can be minimized.
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1 World Health Organization, The world health report, Chapter 6: Neglected Global Epidemics: three growing threats. Retrieved October 3, 2017.
2 The World Bank, Where We Work, The World Bank in Costa Rica. Retrieved October 3, 2017.
3 World Health Organization, Media centre, The top 10 causes of death. Retrieved October 3, 2017.
4 The VCG, How will you die? Retrieved October 3, 2017.