Prevention better option for road safety

Dr Margaret Chan
Director-General of the World Health Organization

Statement at the launch of the Global status report on road safety
New York, USA

15 June 2009

Mayor Bloomberg, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

It is my pleasure today to launch the Global status report on road safety. I am honoured to do so along side Mayor Bloomberg, whose foundation provided the financial support to make this report possible.

This report gives us, for the first time, a detailed assessment of the road safety situation around the globe. You have just heard about the main findings and recommendations from this report. Let me underscore a few points.

First, the report gives us a clear picture of road traffic injuries as a global health and development problem. More than 1.2 million people die on the world’s roads every year, and as many as 50 million others are injured. These are stunning figures that need not, should not, be so high.

Over 90% of these deaths occur in low-income and middle-income countries, which have less than half of the world's registered vehicles. This is another statistic that tells us something is wrong.

Second, the report highlights that nearly half of those dying on the world's roads are pedestrians, cyclists or motorcyclists. These people, who lack the protective shell of a car, are particularly vulnerable to severe and fatal injuries following a crash.

In some low-income and middle-income countries, this proportion is even higher, with up to 80% of road traffic deaths among these vulnerable groups. Clearly we are not giving enough attention to the needs of pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists, many of whom end up in clinics and emergency rooms, overloading already stretched health-care systems.

Third, the report shows that, in many countries, the laws needed to protect people are either not in place or too limited in their scope. Indeed, only 15% of countries have comprehensive laws on all the risk factors we measured. And even when legislation is adequate, most countries report that enforcement is low.

The development and effective enforcement of legislation are key ways to reduce drink-driving and excessive speed, and to increase the use of helmets, seat-belts and child restraints.

Finally, the report demonstrates that in many countries information about road traffic injuries is scarce. To set priorities and target and evaluate their actions, countries need to know the size of the problem, and additional information such as which groups are most affected.

As is so often the case in public health, prevention is not only possible. It is by far the better option. Investment is needed to build safer roads, design infrastructure with the protection of pedestrians and cyclists in mind, and enhance public transport.

Investment is needed to further develop vehicle safety, improve individuals' behaviour, and strengthen systems for trauma care. Collectively, we need to work to instil a culture of road safety. Such measures would avert a tremendous amount of suffering for those who lose their loved ones to these tragedies and whose lives are changed forever.

We look forward to using the findings of the report as a basis for discussion at the First Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety, which takes place in Moscow in November 2009.

This 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 over the next decade.

The Global status report on road safety inspires us to action and the time to act is now. WHO will continue to support country-level programmes that strive to reduce the deaths and injuries occurring on the world's roads.

At the same time, WHO will work to foster international political commitment towards tackling this global public health problem.

Thank you.