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WHO Report Calls for Safer Road Infrastructure
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Image of pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists, all on a busy road
Pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists account for half of all traffic-related fatalities worldwide, according to a new World Health Organization (WHO) report. WHO/T. Pietrasik

A new World Health Organization report says that infrastructure improvements must be made to protect all road travelers, particularly pedestrians and bicyclists who account for 27 percent of road traffic fatalities worldwide.

March 26, 2013—Traffic injuries are the eighth leading cause of death globally, pedestrians and bicyclists accounting for 27 percent of all traffic-related fatalities worldwide and as much as 75 percent of such fatalities in some countries, according to a new report from the World Health Organization (WHO). To decrease those numbers, the organization says that road infrastructure must be made safer for all users and comprehensive road safety laws must be adopted and enforced.

In Global Status Report on Road Safety 2013: Supporting a Decade of Action, the WHO examines road safety in 182 countries that are home to 99 percent of the world’s population. Released on March 14, the report says that approximately 1.24 million people died in traffic-related crashes along the world’s roadways in 2010, and such crashes were the leading cause of death among 15- to 29-year-olds. Those numbers are consistent with 2007 statistics, suggesting that improved global road and driving safety standards have kept traffic deaths from rising despite a global increase of 15 percent in the number of registered vehicles on the roads, the report says.

The number of traffic-related fatalities decreased in 88 WHO member states between 2007 and 2010, but increased in 87 countries during that same time period. Traffic fatality rates tend to correlate with national economies, middle-income countries having the highest annual rates at 20.1 per 100,000 people, compared with 8.7 and 18.3 per 100,000 in high- and low-income countries, respectively, the report says. African nations have the highest number of road traffic deaths annually at a rate of 24.1 per 100,000, while European countries have the lowest at 10.3 per 100,000. However, the report notes, significant disparities exist in traffic fatality rates among countries within the same region. 

 Graph of road traffic deaths

African nations have the most traffic-related fatalities worldwide,
while European nations have the least, according to a new WHO
report. WHO

Pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists account for half of all traffic-related deaths worldwide. In African countries, where many people walk and ride bicycles, pedestrians account for 38 percent of all traffic-related deaths, while in Western Pacific countries, where two- and three-wheeled vehicles are common, motorcyclists account for 36 percent of such deaths, the report says. The WHO calls on governments worldwide to do more to make walking, bicycling, and motorcycling safer by implementing policies to protect these “vulnerable travelers.”

Only 68 countries have national or subnational policies intended to promote walking and bicycling, and just 79 countries have policies that protect pedestrians and bicyclists by physically separating them from high-speed traffic, the report says. Pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists “have specific needs in terms of the infrastructure that would guarantee their safety,” said Laura Sminkey, a communications officer for the WHO, in written responses to questions from Civil Engineering online. “Pedestrians need crosswalks, sidewalks, and raised medians in the middle of major roads, while cyclists and motorcyclists can benefit from separated lanes dedicated to their respective modes of transport.”

The report notes that individual cities can do a great deal to improve road safety, pointing out that New York City now has some of the safest roads in the world after making significant progress in reducing traffic-related fatalities. In 2009, New York City saw a record low of 256 traffic-related fatalities. Still, pedestrians accounted for more than half of those deaths. A study by the New York City Department of Transportation found that such factors as distracted driving and pedestrians crossing against the signal contributed to pedestrian collisions, according to the WHO report. New York City leaders have implemented a plan to reduce annual traffic fatalities by 50 percent by 2030 through targeted infrastructure engineering and other means. “Ensuring implementation of a number of safety measures when road infrastructure projects are designed and facilitating their implementation during construction with earmarked funding can produce important safety gains for all road users,” the WHO report states. “Existing road infrastructure should also be assessed for safety at regular intervals, with a focus on roads with the highest crash risk.”

The WHO also suggests that municipalities can reduce congestion and improve safety by increasing their public transportation options. “Public transportation is well regulated and thus considerably safer than private-car travel in most high-income countries,” the report says. However, the report notes that in countries with rapidly developing economies, unregulated and unsafe public transit systems have led to injuries. “Governments must ensure that public transit systems are safe, accessible, and affordable,” the report says.

The WHO outlines leading risk factors for traffic injuries and deaths: drinking and driving, speeding, and failing to use motorcycle helmets, seat belts, and child restraints. Although many countries have taken such steps as reducing speed limits and adopting stricter drunken-driving laws to combat these risk factors, the WHO says more must be done to ensure the safety of all road travelers. In 2010, governments worldwide signed on to the United Nations Road Safety Collaboration’s “Decade of Action for Road Safety,” a plan aimed at stabilizing and reducing road traffic fatalities. It is estimated that the initiative could save as many as 5 million lives between 2011 and 2020. The WHO’s Global Status Report on Road Safety is designed to serve as a baseline for that initiative. “This series of reports, which will be released every two to three years throughout the decade, will allow countries to measure progress during the ten-year period,” Sminkey said.


 

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