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World Health Day
World Health Organization dedicates World Health Day to road safety
  1. M Peden1,
  2. L Sminkey2
  1. 1Coordinator, Unintentional Injury Prevention, Department of Injuries and Violence Prevention, World Health Organization, 20 Avenue Appia, CH1211 Geneva 27, Switzerland
  2. 2World Health Day 2004 Liaison Officer, Department of Injuries and Violence Prevention, World Health Organization, Geneva, Switzerland
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr Peden;

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Political will and sustained efforts will save lives

Worldwide, nearly 1.2 million people are killed in road traffic crashes every year and about 20 million to 50 million more are injured or disabled. These injuries account for 2.1% of global mortality and 2.6% of all disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) lost. Low income and middle income countries account for about 85% of the deaths and 90% of the DALYs lost annually as a result of road traffic crashes.1 Projections indicate that these figures will increase over the next 20 years.2,3 Without appropriate action, by 2020, road traffic injuries are predicted to be the third leading contributor to the global burden of disease ahead of other health problems such as malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS.2

The economic cost of road traffic crashes is enormous. Estimates suggest that they cost low income and middle income countries 1% to 1.5% of their gross national product (GNP) and high income countries 2% of GNP.4 A conservative estimate of the global cost has been placed at US$ 518 billion per year with low income and middle income countries accounting for US$ 65 billion—more than they receive in development assistance.4

But economic costs are just the tip of the iceberg. For everyone killed, injured, or disabled by a road traffic crash there are countless others deeply affected. Many families are driven deeper into poverty by the expenses of prolonged medical care, loss of a family breadwinner, or the added burden of caring for the disabled.5

Traditionally, road safety has been assumed to be the responsibility of the transport sector, and public health has been slow to become involved. But the health sector would greatly benefit from better road traffic injury prevention in terms of fewer hospital admissions and a reduced severity of injuries. It would also be the health sector’s gain if more people were to adopt the healthier lifestyle of walking or cycling, without fearing for their safety.

The World Health Organization’s annual World Health Day 2004 focused on road safety. The global event was held in Paris. The slogan for the day was “Road Safety is No Accident”. At this event the joint World Health Organization/World Bank World report on road traffic injury prevention was launched.1 This report emphasizes the role of public health in the prevention of road traffic injuries. It offers countries six recommendations for action on road safety at a national level. The report and a summary version (in various languages) are downloadable from the internet at

The report calls for a “systems approach” to road safety which looks at the system as a whole and also the interaction between the three elements of the system—namely, the roads, vehicles, and road users in order to identify where there is potential for intervention. In particular the systems approach recognises that humans make mistakes and as such a safe road traffic system is one that accommodates their weaknesses.1

The report further emphasises that road safety is a shared responsibility between governments, industry, non-governmental organizations and international agencies as well as by many different disciplines such as health professionals, road and motor vehicle designers, law enforcers, educators, and community groups.

The time to act is now. Strong political will and sustained efforts across a range of sectors will save lives.

Political will and sustained efforts will save lives