Confronting Road Traffic Fatalities: A Matter of Political Will
May 13, 2011
Web and Social Media Assistant, Global Health Policy Center
On Wednesday, the World Health Organization (WHO) launched a project to reduce the often overlooked, but formidable problem of the world’s traffic fatalities. While a laudable effort by the WHO, I have to ask, why did this take so long?
Similar to the case against global tobacco, trying to reduce the overall numbers of traffic accidents in the world is an obvious cause to champion. According to the WHO, 1.3 million people die each year because of road traffic accidents – roughly 3,000 people a day. Amazingly, more than half of these fatalities are people who are not travelling in a car, but are rather motorcyclists, bicyclists, and pedestrians. While many may think road fatalities overwhelmingly affect the developed world, because wealthier countries account for over half of the world’s registered vehicle fleet, the reverse is true. In fact, “ninety percent of road traffic deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries.” This makes perfect sense when we consider the accelerating urbanization in low and middle income countries – over half of the world currently lives in cities – and the rising demand for vehicles that accompany this transformation. In Beijing, a city with over 22 million people for example, there are more than 4.8 million cars on the road. That is compared to 1.2 million vehicles in 2001 when the city’s population was 11.2 million people. Though the population has doubled in a decade, the number of cars has more than quadrupled.
Yet as cities become more populous and the demand for vehicles increases, roads are not being upgraded to keep up with new demands and safety measures are not being adequately enforced.
The measures that we have to undertake to fix the problem of road traffic fatalities are not always unaffordable, expensive upgrades of infrastructure and are not always unduly difficult or complex. It’s a matter of political will, with a focus on changing norms and the regulatory and enforcement environment. Look at road traffic fatalities in America as a clear example. In 2010, American road fatalities were at a sixty one year low (their lowest level since 1949). Because of evidence proven interventions such as helmets, seatbelts, enforcing speed limits, and most especially, setting and enforcing measures against drunk driving, we have cut down our traffic incidents by 25% since 2005. It’s unacceptable that road crashes kill 3 people per 100,000 in the UK, but 32 people per 100,000 in Africa. I applaud the effort of the WHO in putting this very important issue on our radar. However it will be up to world leaders to take up this cause. By taking action now, we have the opportunity to avoid millions of unnecessary deaths.
- Leveraging the World Health Organization's Core Strengths
- Video: Spotlighting the NCD Problem
- Report: Getting the Politics Right for the September 2011 UN High-Level Meeting in September