World Health Organisation)
Reviewed May 2016
- About 1.25 million people die each year as a result of road traffic crashes.
- Road traffic injuries are the leading cause of death among young people, aged 15–29 years.
- 90% of the world’s fatalities on the roads occur in low- and middle-income countries, even though these countries have approximately half of the world’s vehicles.
- Half of those dying on the world’s roads are “vulnerable road users”: pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists.
- Without action, road traffic crashes are predicted to rise to become the 7th leading cause of death by 2030.
- The newly adopted 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’s has set an ambitious road safety target of halving the global number of deaths and injuries from road traffic crashes by 2020.
Every year the lives of approximately 1.25 million people are cut short as a result of a road traffic crash.
Between 20 and 50 million more people suffer non-fatal injuries, with many incurring a disability as a result of their injury.
Road traffic injuries cause considerable economic losses to victims, their families, and to nations as a whole. These losses arise from the cost of treatment (including rehabilitation and incident investigation) as well as reduced/lost productivity (e.g. in wages) for those killed or disabled by their injuries, and for family members who need to take time off work (or school) to care for the injured.
There are few global estimates of the costs of injury, but research carried out in 2010 suggests that road traffic crashes cost countries approximately 3% of their gross national product. This figure rises to 5% in some low- and middle-income countries.
Road traffic injuries have been neglected from the global health agenda for many years, despite being predictable and largely preventable. Evidence from many countries shows that dramatic successes in preventing road traffic crashes can be achieved through concerted efforts that involve, but are not limited to, the health sector.
Who is at risk?
More than 90% of deaths that result from road traffic injuries occur in low- and middle-income countries. Road traffic injury death rates are highest in the low- and middle-income countries of the African region. Even within high-income countries, people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are more likely to be involved in a road traffic crashes.
People aged between 15 and 44 years account for 48% of global road traffic deaths.
From a young age, males are more likely to be involved in road traffic crashes than females. About three-quarters (73%) of all road traffic deaths occur among men. Among young drivers, young males under the age of 25 years are almost 3 times as likely to be killed in a car crash as young females.
Risk factors and what can be done to address them
Road traffic injuries can be prevented. Governments need to take action to address road safety in a holistic manner, that requires involvement from multiple sectors (transport, police, health, education) and that addresses the safety of roads, vehicles, and road users themselves.
Effective interventions include designing safer infrastructure and incorporating road safety features into land-use and transport planning; improving the safety features of vehicles; and improving post-crash care for victims of road crashes. Interventions that target road user behaviour are equally important, such as setting and enforcing laws relating to key risk factors, and raising public awareness.
Key risk factors
An increase in average speed is directly related both to the likelihood of a crash occurring and to the severity of the consequences of the crash.
- An adult pedestrian’s risk of dying is less than 20% if struck by a car at 50 km/h and almost 60% if hit at 80 km/h.
- 30 km/h speed zones can reduce the risk of a crash and are recommended in areas where vulnerable road users are common like residential and schools areas.
- Apart from reducing road traffic injuries, lower average traffic speeds can have other positive effects on health outcomes (e.g. by reducing respiratory problems associated with car emissions).
There are many types of distractions that can lead to impaired driving, but recently there has been a marked increase around the world in the use of mobile phones by drivers that is becoming a growing concern for road safety. The distraction caused by mobile phones can impair driving performance.Drivers using mobile phones may have: slower reaction times (notably braking reaction time, but also reaction to traffic signals), impaired ability to keep in the correct lane, and shorter following distances.
- Text messaging also results in considerably reduced driving performance, with young drivers at particular risk of the effects of distraction resulting from this use.
- Drivers using a mobile phone are approximately 4 times more likely to be involved in a crash than when a driver does not use a phone. Hands-free phones are not much safer than hand-held phone sets.
- While there is little concrete evidenceon how to reduce mobile phone use while driving, governments need to be proactive. Actions that can be taken include: adopting legislative measures, launching public awareness campaigns, and regularly collecting data on distracted driving to better understand the nature of this problem.