The first-of-its-kind report examining road safety around the world shows that deaths and injuries from traffic accidents are a major global health and development problem and calls for better public transit planning to protect the most vulnerable groups.
The Spanish version of the report, Global Status Report on Road Safety: Time for Action, was released August 21 in Panama City at the Fifth International Book Fair by the Pan American Health Organization and the World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO).
An English version was released last June in New York by WHO Director-General Margaret Chan and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in the name of Bloomberg Philanthropies, which provided the funding for WHO to produce the global report.
Among the report’s most significant findings is that pedestrians, motorcyclists, bicyclists, the elderly, and children are injured by vehicles in greater proportion and with greater severity than other groups. The authors argue that these vulnerable groups should be given special consideration in traffic planning. The use of public thoroughfares should be considered a social right, say the authors, and road infrastructure planners should place higher priority on the right to life and physical integrity than on the flow of vehicle traffic.
Among other key findings of the report are:
- Low- and middle-income countries have higher road traffic fatality rates than high-income countries. Over 90 percent of the world’s traffic fatalities occur in these countries, although they have only 48 percent of the world’s registered vehicles.
- Globally, nearly half of those who die in traffic crashes are pedestrians, cyclists, or users of motorized two-wheel vehicles, and the proportion is even higher in lower-income countries.
- In the higher-income countries of the Americas Region, 65 percent of road deaths are among vehicle occupants, whereas in the lower-income countries of the Western Pacific Region, 70 percent of road deaths are among members of vulnerable groups.
- Only 29 percent of countries meet basic criteria for reducing speed in urban areas, and less than 10 percent of countries rate the enforcement of their speed limits as effective.
- Only 15 percent of countries have comprehensive laws addressing the five top risk factors: drunk driving, excessive speed, and non-use of helmets, seat-belts, and child restraints.
According to WHO reports, each year over 1.2 million people die on the world’s roadways, and some 20–50 million are the victims of non-fatal trauma. In most regions, the epidemic of traffic injuries is growing. In the past five years, the majority of countries have endorsed the recommendations of the World Report on Road Traffic Injury Prevention, which offers guidance on how countries can implement an integrated approach to improve road safety and reduce mortality on roadways. But until now, there has been no global evaluation of road safety indicating the extent to which this approach has been adopted.
The Global Status Report on Road Safety 2009 is the first extensive evaluation of the road safety situation in 178 countries and is based on data from a standardized survey conducted in 2008. The report supports the view that traffic injuries are a global health and development problem. Beyond the enormous suffering they cause, traffic injuries can reduce families to poverty, since the injured and their families must deal with the long-term consequences of the tragedy, which include the cost of medical care and rehabilitation services and, too often, funeral expenses and loss of the family breadwinner.
Panama and the other 31 countries of the Americas, representing 98 percent of the hemisphere’s population, used a consensus-based participatory methodology to prepare the country reports. Government entities and civil society organizations, with assistance from the national and regional offices of PAHO, carefully reviewed the national road safety strategy and the legislation on speed limits, drinking while driving, the use of helmets by motorcyclists, and the use of seat belts and car seats for children in the back seat of the vehicle. The emphasis on these five risk factors stems from the fact that action in these areas will substantially reduce the mortality, morbidity, and disability from road injuries. By comparing its current situation with that of other countries in the Region, Panama—like other countries—can make the necessary corrective action. Traffic deaths in Panama have been falling in recent years, to 13 per 100,000 inhabitants as of 2005.
It is hoped that Panama will continue working as it did to write this report—that is, with broad, ongoing, and effective interinstitutional cooperation. Road safety is an intersectoral undertaking that must be tackled by national governments and municipalities alike.
Trauma from traffic accidents also puts considerable pressure on national health systems, many of which have limited resources. Also important is exercising oversight using information systems, to ensure that cases that enter the health system are properly registered and that patients are routed to the appropriate medical care to prevent complications and save lives, a process that begins at the site of the trauma. PAHO/WHO has experience and clearly validated documentation to assist Panama where necessary in developing information systems and reviewing pre-hospital and hospital care for trauma.
The launch of the report is part of the cultural program of the Fifth International Book Fair of Panama, the country’s most prestigious literary and cultural event. The launch will take place during a panel discussion in which national authorities and experts will give their opinions about the report.
This launch of the Global Status Report on Road Safety by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) in Panama is part of the existing technical cooperation between the national government and PAHO.
PAHO was officially established in 1902 and is the world’s oldest public health organization. Working with the countries of the Hemisphere to improve the health and quality of life of its inhabitants, it serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization.
Publications of Interest: (Spanish)
- Informe sobre la situación mundial de la seguridad vial
- Cascos. Manual de seguridad vial para decisores y profesionales