Countries in the Americas need comprehensive legislation to reduce traffic deaths, says new PAHO/WHO report
Traffic injuries are the leading cause of death for adolescents and children; pedestrians, motorcyclists and bicyclists are the most common traffic fatalities
Washington, D.C., 14 March 2013 (PAHO/WHO) — Traffic crashes—which claimed nearly 150,000 lives in the Americas in 2010—are the leading cause of death for children ages 5 to 14 and the second-leading cause for people ages 15 to 44. Pedestrians, motorcyclists and bicyclists are most vulnerable to traffic injuries and are the most common fatal crash victims in most countries in the hemisphere.
Changes in legislation are urgently needed to reduce traffic deaths, and especially among the most vulnerable, says the newly released Global Status Report on Road Safety 2013: Supporting a Decade of Action, published by the World Health Organization (WHO) and including data on the Americas gathered by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).
Only two countries (2.8% of the region’s population) in the Americas have comprehensive laws that address the five most important risk factors for traffic injuries: alcohol consumption, speeding, use of motorcycle helmets, seat-belts and child restraints. Worldwide, only 28 countries have comprehensive traffic laws, covering only 7% of the global population.
“Political will is needed at the highest level of government to ensure appropriate road safety legislation and stringent enforcement of laws by which we all need to abide,” said WHO Director-General Margaret Chan. “If this cannot be ensured, families and communities will continue to grieve, and health systems will continue to bear the brunt of injury and disability due to road traffic crashes.”
In 2010, there were approximately 1.24 million deaths worldwide due to traffic injuries, roughly the same number as in 2007. According to the report, 88 countries saw reductions in traffic fatalities, but the number increased in 87 others.
In the Americas, traffic fatalities average 16.1 per 100,000 inhabitants, however the rates vary across subregions. The Spanish-speaking Caribbean and the Andean region both average 22.1 traffic deaths per 100,000, while the average in Canada and the United States is 10.9 per 100,000.
Pedestrians, motorcyclists and bicyclists are the most vulnerable road users and the primary fatal victims of road crashes in all subregions except North America, where car occupants are the main victims. Motorcyclists and occupants of two- or three-wheeled vehicles make up 44.2% of all traffic fatalities in the Spanish-speaking Caribbean, 22.6% in Southern Cone countries, and 14.8% in the English-speaking Caribbean.
According to the report, there is no direct relationship between traffic fatalities and the number of vehicles in circulation. Canada and the United States account for 66% of all vehicles in the Americas but only 28% of traffic deaths. Southern Cone countries account for 20% of total vehicles in the hemisphere but 36% of traffic deaths.
A number of countries in the Americas have strengthened their road safety legislation, but few have done so in a way that addresses all five main risk factors. About two-thirds of the region’s countries have comprehensive laws on seatbelt use, but only half have comprehensive laws on drunk driving, and only five (out of 32 countries) have laws on speed limits.
“The challenge in the Americas is to have public transportation policies that prevent, for example, more growth in the use of motorcycles,” said Eugenia Rodrigues, PAHO/WHO regional advisor on road safety. “We also need safe spaces where people can walk and use bicycles as an alternative form of transport.”
The Global Status Report on Road Safety 2013: Supporting a Decade of Action is the second in a series analyzing to what extent countries are implementing key road safety measures. The report presents information from 182 countries, accounting for almost 99% of the world’s population.
The Decade of Action was mandated by the U.N. General Assembly as an opportunity for countries to stop and reverse the trend toward increasing traffic injuries, which—without action—would lead to the loss of some 1.9 million lives on the roads each year by 2020. Launched on 11 May 2011 by governments across the world, the Decade of Action seeks to build capacity for road safety management, improve road and vehicle safety and the behavior of road users, and strengthen post-crash care. WHO provides countries with technical guidance on legislation, enforcement, mass media campaigns, data collection, and trauma care.
In 2011, health authorities from throughout the Americas approved a regional plan of action on road safety that seeks to prevent traffic injuries, especially through legislation that addresses the five main risk factors: drinking and driving, speeding, and failing to use motorcycle helmets, seat-belts and child restraints.
PAHO, founded in 1902, is the oldest international public health organization in the world. It works with its member countries to improve the health and the quality of life of the people of the Americas. It also serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of WHO.
- Road Safety Facts in the Region of the Americas, 2013
- Interview with Eugenia Rodrigues, PAHO Regional Advisor on Roadsafety
- Global Status Report on Road Safety 2013: Supporting a Decade of Action
- WHO press release
- “Traffic Safety: No Act of Fate” (article in Perspectives in Health about the “Santa Fe tragedy” in Argentina)
- Interview with Eugenia Rodrigues, PAHO regional advisor on road safety (in Spanish)