Poorest hit hardest: WHO Road Safety Status Report

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Dr Margaret Chan: “Road traffic fatalities take an unacceptable toll – particularly on poor people in poor countries”
Dr Margaret Chan: “Road traffic fatalities take an unacceptable toll – particularly on poor people in poor countries”
The report highlights several Foundation-supported programmes, including this safe school area initiative run by Amend in Tanzania
The report highlights several Foundation-supported programmes, including this safe school area initiative run by Amend in Tanzania
WHO urges universal adoption of UN vehicle safety regulation and electronic stability control
WHO urges universal adoption of UN vehicle safety regulation and electronic stability control

Poor people in poorer countries are bearing the brunt of the global road traffic injury epidemic, even as the overall global number of deaths appears to stabilise, a new report from the World Health Organization finds.

According to the WHO Global status report on road safety 2015, published today, Malawi, Thailand and Tanzania have amongst the highest rates of road traffic death, estimated at above 30 per 100,000 population, contrasting with the best performing countries, Sweden and the UK, below 3 per 100,000. China (260,000) and India (208,000) have the highest absolute number of estimated road traffic fatalities. Libya, with an astonishing estimated 73 deaths for every 100,000 people, has roads that are twice as dangerous as anywhere else in the world according to the report. The report comprises a narrative text combining evidence, facts and best practices with conclusions drawn following the analysis of the data collected for 180 countries.

At least 1.25 million people die each year as a result of road traffic crashes, despite some improvements in road safety. However, WHO finds that the number of road traffic deaths seems to be stabilising even though the number of motor vehicles worldwide has increased rapidly, as has the global population. In the last three years 79 countries have seen a decrease in the absolute number of fatalities while 68 countries have seen an increase. Countries that have had the most success in reducing the number of road traffic deaths have achieved this by improving legislation, enforcement, and making roads and vehicles safer.

Dr Margaret Chan, Director General of WHO, said: “We’re moving in the right direction. The report shows that road safety strategies are saving lives. While much progress has been achieved over the past decade, the pace has been too slow. The SDG target of a 50% reduction in road traffic deaths and injuries by 2020 offers a powerful focus around which governments and the international community can galvanize action – the challenge now is to seize the opportunity to do so, and to turn the current plateau in road deaths into a measurable decline.”

The WHO report highlights that road users around the world are unequally protected. The risk of dying in a road traffic crash still depends, in great part, on where people live and how they move around. A big gap still separates high-income countries from low- and middle- income ones where 90% of road traffic deaths occur in spite of having just 54% of the world’s vehicles. Europe, in particular the region’s wealthier countries, has the lowest death rates per capita; Africa the highest.

The report also finds that the world’s 10 most populous countries – China, India, USA, Indonesia, Brazil, Pakistan, Nigeria, Bangladesh, the Russian Federation and Japan – together accounting for almost 4.2 billion people, have 56% of the world’s road traffic deaths (703 000). None of these countries has laws on all five risk factors which are in line with best practice. WHO argues that if these countries were all to bring their road safety laws in line with recognised best practice, and adequately enforce them, there would be huge potential to save lives and reduce injuries resulting from road traffic crashes. Furthermore, this would go a long way towards reaching the target reduction in road traffic deaths identified in the Sustainable Development Goals.

Some countries are taking action to make roads safer, although progress is slow. In the last three years, since the launch of the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety, only 17 countries have aligned at least one of their laws with best practice on seat-belts, drink–driving, speed, motorcycle helmet or child restraints. Currently 150 countries have a national strategy for road traffic safety, most of which (131) are partially or fully funded. This does represent progress relative to the 139 countries that reported the existence of such a strategy in 2010, of which 119 were partially or fully funded.

Michael Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies, which funded the report, said, “Thanks to stronger laws and smarter infrastructure, nearly half a billion people in the world are better protected from road crashes than they were just a few years ago - and we have the opportunity to do much more, especially when it comes to enforcing laws. Every life lost in a road crash is an avoidable tragedy, and this report can prevent more of them by helping policy-makers focus their efforts where they'll make the biggest difference."

The report reveals that globally:

  • 105 countries have good seat-belt laws that apply to all occupants;
  • 47 countries have good speed laws defining a national urban maximum speed limit of 50 Km/h and empowering local authorities to further reduce speed limits;
  • 34 countries have a good drink–driving law with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit of less than or equal to 0.05 g/dl as well as lower limits of less than or equal to 0.02 g/dl for young and novice drivers;
  • 44 countries have helmet laws that apply to all drivers, passengers, roads and engine types; require the helmet to be fastened and refer to a particular helmet standard;
  • 53 countries have a child restraint law for occupants of vehicles based on age, height or weight, and apply an age or height restriction on children sitting in the front seat.

Motorcyclists are particularly vulnerable, making up 23% of all road traffic deaths. In many regions this problem is increasing; in the region of the Americas, for example, the proportion of motorcycle deaths out of all road traffic fatalities rose from 15% to 20% between 2010 and 2013. In the South-East Asia and Western Pacific regions a third of all road traffic deaths are among motorcyclists.

Pedestrians and cyclists are also among the groups with the least protection, making up 22% and 4% of global deaths respectively. Dr Etienne Krug, WHO’s Director of the Department for Management of Non-communicable Diseases, Disability, Violence and Injury Prevention, said: “Decision-makers need to rethink transport policies. Improving public transport as well as making walking and cycling safer requires us to refocus our attention on how vehicles and people share the road. The lack of policies aimed at vulnerable road users is killing people and harming our cities. If we make walking and cycling safer there will be fewer deaths, more physical activity, better air quality, and more pleasant cities.”

Promoting best practice, the report highlights a number of programmes supported by the FIA Foundation. The work of the International Road Assessment Programme, the Global New Car Assessment Programme, and the school safety assessments and infrastructure provision in Africa by the NGO Amend – all strategic partners of the Foundation – are featured. The WHO report calls for action to ensure minimum UN vehicle safety standards, encourages countries to adopt star rating to measure the safety performance of road infrastructure, and calls for action to reduce speed limits around schools – all priority policies for the Foundation.

Saul Billingsley, Director General of the FIA Foundation, said: “Just a month before the Brasilia High Level Conference on Road Safety, this new status report shows the scale of the task facing the world if we are to meet the Global Goals target by 2020. It is encouraging that road deaths appear to be stabilising, but there is a huge reality gap between the number of deaths countries – particularly the worst performing – self-report and the WHO estimates of the real situation. So far during the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety deaths have increased in sixty-eight countries. As the report finds, too many governments are still paying lip-service to the need for action, too many are dragging feet and allowing bureaucratic delay when urgency and real implementation and results are what is needed.”

Read the WHO Global status report on road safety 2015