World Health Day: Road safety is no accident

Paris, France
7 April 2004

Mr President, Honourable Ministers, ladies and gentlemen,

Today is World Health Day, devoted to Road Safety. As we are gathered here today hundreds of other events are taking place around the world in over 100 countries.

Motorized road transport has changed the face of employment, trade, family life and health care, bringing benefits that were unimaginable 100 years ago. We can now get patients to emergency rooms, deliver relief at the sites of disasters and take holidays in places we would not have been able to visit before. However, the price we are paying for such benefits is too high. This is why we have chosen road safety as the theme for World Health Day 2004 and why we are launching the World Report on Road Traffic Injury Prevention. This report is the result of collaboration with the World Bank and a hundred or so experts and donors whom I would like to thank.

During the course of any day, the tragic news of a death on the road is delivered about 3000 times to families and friends. Fifteen thousand times, people will hear that one of their family members has survived a crash but with serious injury and perhaps lifelong disability. The shock and grief these events cause are all too well-known throughout the world. They are particularly well-known in poorer countries, where 90% of the annual deaths occur.

In richer countries, the deaths and injuries are slowly decreasing but, in the poorer ones, they are still increasing rapidly. Victims and survivors are often young, leaving families to cope with the loss of a breadwinner.

Most of these deaths, injuries and economic losses can be prevented. In many high-income countries, an established set of interventions has contributed to significant reductions in the incidence and impact of road traffic injuries.

France is one such country. It has seen a 20% reduction in road traffic deaths since you, President Chirac, made road safety one of your Government's key priorities in 2002 and introduced a multisectoral approach to tackling the problem.

Not everyone is equally affected by the lack of road safety. In high-income countries, most victims and survivors are vehicle occupants. However, in low-income and middle-income countries in Asia the vast majority are cyclists and motorcyclists. In Africa and South America, they are mostly pedestrians and users of public transportation.

A variety of approaches are being used to tackle some of the causes, including better legislation, enforcement and information. A number of initiatives, from Colombia to Ghana, from Costa Rica to Viet Nam, show that improving road safety is possible even in lower-income settings.

Countries need to designate a lead agency in government which can coordinate the national road safety efforts. They also need to assess the problem, prepare a national road safety strategy, allocate financial and human resources, and implement specific interventions that are known to work. These include setting and enforcing laws on seat-belts, child restraints, helmets and drink driving; and promoting daytime running lights and improved visibility of all road users.

In addition to setting laws and raising awareness, countries need to formulate policies that promote safer vehicles, safer traffic management and safer road design. The countries that have been most successful have been those that have engaged many different groups from government, civil society and industry in a coordinated programme of road safety.

Every sector is important - transport, education, health, law enforcement - in tackling the problem. On this World Health Day, I call particularly upon the public health community to increase its contribution. By strengthening emergency services for victims, improving data collection, contributing to policies, developing prevention activities or simply ringing the alarm bell - as we are doing today - we can all make significant contributions.

Everyone can increase road safety in their private capacity as well - as drivers, passengers and pedestrians, and as members of the public who influence decision-makers. Road deaths and injuries are preventable. Let us use this World Health Day to draw attention to this fact.

This day is just a beginning. Next week, the Secretary-General of the UN and I will both address the UN General Assembly about road safety. In May, the World Health Assembly, in Geneva, is expected to adopt a resolution about it. In June, 1500 experts will gather in Vienna for the World Conference on Injury Prevention and Safety Promotion. "Road safety is no accident" is the slogan for our day. It calls upon all of us to recognize that road traffic injuries can be prevented if we take the conscious decision to give safety the priority it deserves. What has happened in France in the past months is a perfect illustration of the effectiveness of this political will. Let's decide today to end the carnage on our roads.

Many thanks to the Government of France for its support and hospitality in preparing this event with us today.

Thank you.