At last, world leaders have recognized that road accidents should be of global concern. Road accidents are practically daily news here. Often in this country, it seems drivers are slow to change their practice of non-regular vehicle maintenance -wreaking havoc when they lose their brakes or their tires; motorcyclists think traffic laws don’t apply to 2-wheeled vehicles; and pedestrians walk when and where they’re not supposed to.
In 2009, the WHO published its Global Status Report on Road Safety which states that “more than 1.2 million people die on the world’s roads every year, and as many as about 50 million others are injured”, and that “over 90% of the deaths occur in low-income and middle-income countries.”
The report also points out the far-reaching effects of road traffic accidents and notes that they “can drive a family into poverty as crash survivors … [who] struggle to cope with the long-term consequences … including the cost of medical care and rehabilitation and all too often funeral expenses and the loss of the family breadwinner.”
On March 2, 2010, the UN General Assembly finally heeded the worldwide call for road safety and adopted the draft resolution Improving Global Road Safety (A/64/L.44/Rev.1). The resolution proclaims 2011-2020 as the Decade of Action for Road Safety.
Improving Global Road Safety
Apart from proclaiming the Decade of Action for Road Safety, the resolution also, among others,:
- Requests the WHO and the UN regional commissions, in cooperation with other partners in the UN Road Safety Collaboration and other stakeholders, to prepare a Plan of Action of the Decade as a guiding document to support the implementation of its objectives;
- Calls upon countries to implement road safety activities, particularly in the areas of road safety management, road infrastructure, vehicle safety, road user behaviour, including distractions in traffic, road safety education and post-crash care, including rehabilitation for people with disabilities;
- Invites countries to set their own national road traffic casualty reduction targets to be achieved by the end of the Decade;
- Calls for the inclusion of activities to pay attention to the needs of all road users, in particular, the needs of pedestrians, cyclists and other vulnerable road users in low-income and middle-income countries, through support for appropriate legislation and policy, and infrastructure, and by increasing means of sustainable transport;
- Encourages countries, groups and individuals to take action, as appropriate, to discourage distractions in traffic, including texting while driving, which lead to increased morbidity and mortality owing to road crashes;
- Encourages countries to continue to strengthen their commitment to road safety, including by observing the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims on the third Sunday of November every year.
The UN GA resolution cites the WHO’s Global Status Report on Road Safety which is worthwhile to tackle.
Global Status Report on Road Safety
The report “is the first broad assessment of the status of road safety in 178 countries, using data drawn from a standardized survey conducted in 2008 and presents a number of key findings:
- Over 90% of the world’s road fatalities occur in low-income and middle-income countries which have only 48% of the world’s registered vehicles.
- Almost 50% of road traffic fatalities are pedestrians, cyclists or users of motorized 2-wheelers.
- Although speed is a major factor in injuries to pedestrians and cyclists, only 29% of countries meet basic criteria for reducing speed in urban areas and less than 10% think that their respective speed limit enforcement is effective.
- Infrastructure and policy measures that allow road users to walk and cycle together, as well as measures that improve the quality of and access to public transportation, are lacking.
- Less than 50% of the countries address 5 critical risk factors (drunk-driving, excessive speed, helmet use, seatbelt use and child restraints) and only 15% have comprehensive laws on the same.
- Only 49% of countries have a legal blood alcohol concentration limit of less than or equal to the WHO-recommended limit of 0.05 grams per deciliter.
- Only 40% of countries have a motorcycle helmet law for both rider and passengers. Only 40% require that helmets meet a set national of international standard.
- Only 57% of countries require seatbelt use for both front and rear passengers.
- Only 20% of low-income countries require young children to have appropriate car restraints.
On a positive note, the report states that many of the measures effective at reducing road traffic injuries also have positive effects on health (like reducing exhaust emissions improves respiratory health).
Unfortunately, the studies made show that enforcement scores for all discovered risks (including those above) were generally low.
With its study of the state of road safety around the world, the Report lists recommended Actions for road safety including:
Actions by governments, in the area of policy, legislation and enforcement:
- Enact and enforce legislation requiring the use of seat-belts and child restraints, and the wearing of motorcycle helmets and bicycle helmets.
- Enact and enforce legislation to prevent alcohol-impaired driving.
- Set and enforce appropriate speed limits.
- Set and enforce strong and uniform vehicle safety standards.
- Ensure that road safety considerations are embedded in environmental and other assessments for new projects and in the evaluation of transport policies and plans.
- Establish data collection systems designed to collect and analyse data and use the data to improve safety.
- Set appropriate design standards for roads that promote safety for all.
- Manage infrastructure to promote safety for all.
- Provide efficient, safe and affordable public transport services.
- Encourage walking and the use of bicycles.
Actions by communities, civil society groups and individuals to behave responsibly by:
- abiding by the speed limit on roads;
- never driving when over the legal alcohol limit;
- always wearing a seat-belt and properly restraining children, even on short trips;
- wearing a crash helmet when riding a two-wheeler.
Although the Decade of Action for Road Safety is until 2020, let’s not take a decade to impose and/or implement sufficient road safety laws. As citizens, let us also not wait for the laws to be imposed and/or implemented. We need only feel a sense of responsibility whenever on the road whether as driver, passenger or pedestrian. Governments, punish traffic law violators. Car owners, have regular vehicle check-up and maintenance (with special emphasis on the brakes and tires). Cyclists, remember the road safety laws apply to you too. Use your head but not as a brake, wear a helmet. Passengers, remind speeding drivers to be careful, even slow down. Pedestrians, use designated pedestrian walkways.
Remember: “the life you save may be your own”.
 Global status report on road safety: time for action. Geneva, World Health Organization, 2009 (www.who.int/violence_injury_prevention/road_safety_status/2009).