When asked what types of risk they fear most, people often list frightening but rare scenarios such as plane crashes, housefires, or being struck by lightning.
These fears loom large, when in fact one of the most dangerous scenarios that people face occurs on a daily basis. Road traffic crashes are responsible for 1.25 million fatalities worldwide each year. An additional 20-50 million people will suffer non-fatal injuries from crashes. These injuries and deaths cause untold emotional damage for the affected families, and significantly drag down national economies. The economic cost of traffic crashes in most countries is estimated to be between 1-3% of a nation’s GDP. These costs are only expected to rise. By 2030, without intervention, road traffic crashes are expected to become the seventh leading cause of death worldwide.
Unfortunately, the brunt of these costs are borne by low- and middle-income countries, where the number of vehicles on the road have rapidly increased while policy and infrastructure have struggled to keep up. More than 90% of the world’s traffic-related crashes take place in these nations, despite that they contribute only 54% to the world’s total number of registered vehicles. These numbers are higher in part because of a larger proportion of cyclists and motorcyclists on the roads, and the dangerous mixing of traffic with pedestrians. 50% of all traffic fatalities are pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists.
Conventional wisdom around road safety tends to excuse these problems as mere chance, or careless driving, while accepting the subsequent loss as inevitable. But Vital Strategies is working to change global perspectives on road safety by helping to implement a new global approach: Safe Systems.
The Safe Systems approach accepts that humans make mistakes and are physically vulnerable, but endeavors to create a system that reduces the chance of traffic-related fatalities and activates multiple points of remediation in the event of malfunction. This system includes safer road engineering and infrastructure, vehicular design, enforcement of laws, and post-crash response.
The United Nations (UN) has adopted road safety as a priority in its Sustainable Development Goals (a feature that was missing in the Millennium Development Goals). To achieve its targets, the World Health Organization (WHO) has prescribed a technical package comprised of six components and 22 interventions.
Several specific interventions ranging in their ease of implementation make up these six components. Some are recommendations for greater stringency in existing structure, while others are novel interpretations of necessary measures.
Vital Strategies, a key partner of the Bloomberg Initiative for Global Road Safety (BIGRS), has led the road safety initiative in 10 of the world’s largest developing cities since 2015. The initiative focuses on five key risk factors: drinking and driving, proper helmet use, seatbelts, speeding, and child restraints. While these may seem simple enough to grasp, the opportunity to mitigate these risks means the difference between life and death.
A recent campaign stressing the importance of properly wearing a helmet when riding two-wheeled vehicles was launched in Fortaleza, Brazil. Campaign evaluation revealed that over 50% of the surveyed sample group reported to have stopped riding their vehicle without locking the helmet in place, for themselves and their passengers, after being exposed to the campaign.
Road safety is a growing concern for the world, both from a public health and an economic standpoint. With WHO’s renewed focus, and partnerships such as that of Vital Strategies and BIGRS, innovative road safety interventions can make traffic-related deaths a relic from the past.