Road safety: a public health issue

29 March 2004

Paraguay traffic
On busy streets, pedestrians and motorcyclists are particularly vulnerable to road traffic injuries

At the inquest into the world’s first road traffic death in 1896, the coroner was reported to have said “this must never happen again”.1 More than a century later, 1.2 million people are killed on roads every year and up to 50 million more are injured. These casualties of the road will increase if action is not taken.

Throughout the world, roads are bustling with cars, buses, trucks, motorcycles, mopeds and other types of two- and three-wheelers. By making the transportation of goods and people faster and more efficient, these vehicles support economic and social development in many countries. But while motorized travel provides many benefits, it can also do serious harm unless safety is made a priority. Pedestrians and cyclists using roads are particularly at risk. Crashes are frequent. Deaths and injuries are common.

If current trends continue, the number of people killed and injured on the world’s roads will rise by more than 60% between 2000 and 2020. Most of these injuries will occur in developing countries where more and more people are using motorized transport. In these countries, cyclists, motorcyclists, users of public transport, and pedestrians are especially vulnerable to road traffic injuries.

Road deaths and injuries are preventable

There are solutions to the road safety problem. A wide range of effective interventions exist, and experience in countries with long histories of motorized travel has shown that a scientific, “systems approach” to road safety is essential to tackling the problem. This approach addresses the traffic system as a whole and looks at the interactions between vehicles, road users and the road infrastructure to identify solutions.

There is no single blueprint for road safety. Interventions and strategies that work in one setting may need to be adapted elsewhere. During the coming months, WHO will focus specifically on interventions relating to five of the many factors that cause road traffic deaths and injuries.

Speeding carSafer roads: five key areas for effective interventions
Pop-up feature highlighting five major risk factors that contribute to road injuries and interventions to reduce these risks.

Making our roads safer

World Health Day 2004 is dedicated to the theme of road safety. On this day - 7 April - WHO and the World Bank will launch the World report on road traffic injury prevention, which presents current knowledge of the global road traffic injury problem and offers science-based evidence and solutions to address it. WHO and partners are also launching a one-year global road safety campaign, which aims to promote action to prevent road injuries.

The loss and suffering associated with road traffic deaths and injuries are preventable. With firm political will and an integrated approach that addresses vehicles, the people who use roads, and the road infrastructure, roads can be made safer.



All figures are taken from the World report on road traffic injury prevention

1 Source: World’s first road death. London, RoadPeace. (accessed 1 March 2004)