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Global status report on road safety
  1. Tamitza Toroyan
  1. Dr Tamitza Toroyan, Technical Officer, WHO Department of Violence and Injury Prevention and Disability, 20 Avenue Appia, 1211 Geneva 27, Switzerland; toroyant{at}

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The World Health Organization has just released the Global status report on road safety—the first broad assessment that describes the road safety situation in 178 countries, using data drawn from a standardised survey. The results provide a benchmark that countries can use to assess their road safety position relative to other countries, while at the international level these findings can be considered as a “baseline”, against which regional and global level progress can be measured.

The questionnaire used for this survey was developed in consultation with an expert committee of road safety researchers and practitioners. Data collection was carried out using a self-administered questionnaire, the content of which was based on the recommendations of the World report on road traffic injury prevention, developed by WHO, the World Bank and many other partners in 2004. The methodology used involved the identification of a National Data Coordinator in each country who identified up to seven other national road safety experts from multiple sectors who could complete the questionnaire. A consensus meeting was then held involving all respondents to discuss their responses. Based on consensus among this group of experts, one final country response was submitted to WHO following government clearance. Final data were received from 178 participating countries and areas—accounting for over 98% of the world’s population.

The results confirm that road traffic injuries remain a serious public health problem, with over 1.2 million lives lost each year as a result of road traffic crashes. They also confirm previous findings that show that death rates in low-income and middle-income countries are considerably higher than in high-income countries (21.5 and 19.3 per 100 000 population, respectively, compared with 10.3 per 100 000).

The report’s results provide the first global breakdown of deaths by type of road users. They show that almost half of deaths (46%) are among vulnerable road users—pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists. In some of the poorer economies of the world, particularly in South-East Asia and the Western Pacific regions, this proportion of vulnerable road user deaths can reach up to 80%. These results highlight the importance of giving an increased focus—and equal priority—to the needs of vulnerable road users when policy decisions on road safety, land use and urban planning are being made.

Evidence shows clearly that developing and enforcing road safety laws are critical to reducing drink–driving and excessive speed, and to increasing the use of helmets, seatbelts and child restraints. Yet the results presented in this report show that only 15% of countries have laws relating to all these risk factors that can be considered comprehensive in their scope. For example, while over 90% of countries have some kind of national drink–driving law, only 49% of countries stipulate a legal blood alcohol concentration limit of 0.05 g/dl or below, as recommended in the World report on road traffic injury prevention. Governments need to enact comprehensive laws that protect all road users, ensuring that these incomplete laws are amended to conform with good practices that are based on sound evidence of effectiveness.

Finally, the Global status report shows that huge gaps remain in the quality and coverage of the data that countries collect and report on road traffic injuries. Reliable data on deaths and non-fatal injuries are needed by countries to assess the scope of their road traffic injury problem and to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of interventions that they put into place. Under-reporting of both fatal and non-fatal road traffic injuries remains a big problem in many countries, while the lack of a common terminology across countries limits the comparability of data. Strategies to improve the quality of data include improving linkages between the police, transport and health sectors to help address under-reporting, and encouraging the use of a standard definition of a road traffic death to allow international comparisons to be made.

The Global status report shows that no country can afford to sit back and assume that its road safety work is complete. Even among high-income countries where road traffic fatality rates are low, road traffic crashes remain an important cause of death, and much more can be done. There are many examples of measures that governments can put into place that are proven to improve road safety. The international community must also play its part in halting and reversing the current global trend of increasing road traffic deaths. It can do so by assisting in the dissemination of good practices that are based on evidence, and by recognising road traffic injuries as an important health and development problem and intensifying support for prevention. One opportunity for this report to be used by the international community is at the First Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety, which takes place in Moscow in November 2009. This conference will be a milestone event in international road safety that will serve as a call to action to reduce the impact of road traffic crashes, particularly in low-income and middle-income countries. It is envisaged that the Global status report can be used as a basis for discussion at this conference and as a catalyst for action to guide and support countries in their future efforts.