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Road safety an urgent global crisis, finds annual WHO report

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Road safety remains a huge and urgent global issue after the WHO’s annual 2023 report published today revealed that traffic crashes are the leading killer of children and youth aged 5-29 years.

More than 2 deaths occur every minute with over 3,200 deaths per day.

Global road traffic deaths have fallen slightly to 1.19 million per year – a 5% drop since 2010. Yet road crashes remain a persistent global health crisis with pedestrians, cyclists and other vulnerable road users facing acute risks.

“The tragic tally of road crash deaths is heading in the right direction, downwards, but nowhere near fast enough,” says WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. 

“The carnage on our roads is preventable. We call on all countries to put people rather than cars at the centre of their transport systems.” 

Rethinking mobility safety

The WHO report found that more than half of fatalities occur among pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists, and other powered two and three wheeled vehicle riders.

Breaking this down, since 2010 pedestrian deaths have increased by 3% to around 274,000 in 2021, accounting for 23% of global fatalities. 

Cyclist deaths rose by 20% to around 71,000, accounting for 6% of global fatalities, while 3% of deaths are from micromobility devices such as e-scooters. 

A big part of the problem is that 80% of the world’s roads do not meet basic safety standards and just 0.2% have cycle lanes, leaving users dangerously exposed.

Also likely playing a part is the rise of e-bikes in cities that lack adequate cycling infrastructure. This is because of increased e-bike ridership among older populations who are more vulnerable to serious injury and death in the event of crashes. 

Commenting on the findings, Michael R. Bloomberg, Founder of Bloomberg LP and Bloomberg Philanthropies, which helped produce the report, said: “Our mission at Bloomberg Philanthropies is to save and improve as many lives as possible, and one of the best ways to do that is to make more of the world’s roads safe for all.

“For more than a decade now, we’ve made encouraging progress together with the World Health Organization and our partners. Still, as this new report makes clear, road safety demands stronger commitments from governments worldwide – and we’ll continue to urge more leaders to take lifesaving action.”

Low-and middle-income countries hardest hit

When split by region, 9 in ten deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries.

Deaths in these countries are also far higher when set against the number of vehicles and roads they hold. For example, the risk of death per population is three times higher in low-income countries than in high-income countries, yet low income countries have just 1% of the world’s motor vehicles.

28% of deaths occur in the WHO South-East Asia Region, 25% in the Western Pacific Region, 19% in the African Region, 12% in the Region of the Americas, 11% in the Eastern Mediterranean Region and 5% in the European Region.  Fatality rates per population are nearly three times higher in Africa, which has the highest rates at 19 per 100,000 population. 

On a brighter note, 10 countries saw a 50% or more reduction in road fatalities from 2010-2021. 

But with the world’s motor vehicle fleet ‘likely’ to double to over two billion by 2030, it is clear that urgent action is needed now.

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