Road Safety Week Highlights Scale of Traffic Deaths Globally

Family on scooter
Global Road Safety Week begins today.

This week, in an effort to increase awareness about the deadly impacts of traffic accidents, the United Nations (UN) is sponsoring the first annual Global Road Safety Week. From April 23 to 29, activities around the world will focus on improving road safety, with a special emphasis on youth aged 10 to 24 years, for whom traffic injuries are a leading cause of death and injury. The week will culminate in a World Youth Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland, where delegations of young people will draw up and adopt a declaration on road safety and define ways to better serve as road safety advocates in their countries.

In its 2007 State of the World report, the Worldwatch Institute reports that nearly 1.2 million people are killed in traffic accidents each year and another 50 million are injured—ranking these public health dangers on the same scale as diseases like malaria and tuberculosis. Despite significant mortality rates associated with traffic accidents, however, road safety was not a target of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, which address other threats to global development including extreme poverty and HIV/AIDS. This omission has limited public awareness and financial aid for the issue, critics say.


Make Roads Safe, an organization dedicated to putting global road traffic injuries on the agendas of both the Group of Eight (G8) and UN, notes that road safety is particularly relevant to developing countries. More than 85 percent of traffic-related deaths and injuries occur in low- or middle-income countries that do not have effective road safety programs in place. These accidents are not only physically and emotionally debilitating for those involved, but they also impose a huge economic burden. A 2006 report from the Commission for Global Road Safety puts the global cost of traffic-related injuries at between US$64.5 billion and $100 billion annually.

According to Make Roads Safe, these figures would decrease significantly if large lenders such as the World Bank designated at least 10 percent of their road infrastructure funding to designing safer roads and implementing public safety programs. If the funding minimum is not met, however, traffic deaths and injuries could increase by as much as 65 percent by 2020, the group notes. Other key factors that can significantly prevent road traffic injuries include helmets, seat belts, and limits on drunk driving and speeding.

While the expansion of road infrastructure has the potential to improve people’s access to education, health care, and employment opportunities, it can also lead to lead to greater environmental destruction, infringing on habitat and farmland, opening up access to previously undeveloped areas, and polluting the air, land, and water. By developing roads carefully and with potential environmental impacts in mind, developers have a unique opportunity to boost access to vital resources while ensuring the safety of millions of people, says Make Roads Safe.


This story was produced by Eye on Earth, a joint project of the Worldwatch Institute and the blue moon fund. View the complete archive of Eye on Earth stories, or contact Staff Writer Alana Herro at aherro [AT] worldwatch [DOT] org with your questions, comments, and story ideas.