When looking to improve road safety for children around the world, it is clear that the experience of South Korea has valuable lessons to offer.
To start, the numbers speak for themselves. In 1992, 1,566 kids (14 years old and under) were killed in road crashes in South Korea. By 2014, children deaths dramatically decreased to only 53, the equivalent of an almost 97 percent reduction over that period of time. No other country that we know of has experienced such a remarkable reduction in only 22 years.
What made this achievement possible?
Although there isn't a single answer, the evidence shows that comprehensive policies played a crucial role in reducing children deaths due to road and traffic injuries.
Blink and you may have missed that the beginning of May was the third United Nations Road Safety Week. As with everything omnipresent in our lives, the steady drumbeat of the nightly local news reporting a fatal wreck or injury may only cause a passing glance. Yet, a number of recent actions have focused international institutions, non-governmental organizations, the private sector and others together to take on the number one killer of young people worldwide: road crashes.
The end of April saw the United Nations Secretary General announced the creation of a Special Envoy for Road Safety, signaling a new level of growing attention to the topic. While this year’s UN Road Safety Week was dedicated to the theme of protecting children, it’s really about ensuring the safety of all ages, especially in the developing world, where 90 percent of road crashes occur each year.
The United Kingdom, Netherlands and Sweden consistently occupy the top of the road safety league table. As the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020 hits its mid-point, practitioners are working on transferring these countries’ (and others) lessons more quickly across the developing world. In the meantime, the overall cost of fatal and serious injuries in just the 80 lowest-income countries is estimated to be a staggering $220 billion per year and a global average equivalent to 3-5% of GDP loss.
Action is needed now, to avoid the forecasted rise of road fatalities to be the fifth-overall leading cause of death worldwide by 2030.
There will likely not be a single breakthrough moment to get this topic into the realm of more mainstreamed development issues, but rather a series of sustained pushes across spheres of activity at the country, regional and global level. The month of March 2015 saw three telling activities play out with global aspirations.
It is unacceptable that around the world, the number one threat that our children and young people face is road traffic injury.
Too often, the world overlooks this issue. But four years ago, for one moment, the world did not ignore a tragedy on the road. My family was thrust into the spotlight when we suffered the loss of my precious daughter, Zenani.
For a brief moment, barely a day, the world’s attention was on my family during our nightmare. Yet too often, when young lives are lost on the roads, the world turns a blind eye.
As I stand here today, right now in my thoughts are the 500 families who have suffered the loss of a child in just the last 24 hours. Those feeling the same suffocating pain as my own family has done. Parents losing that which they hold most precious. The world will barely notice this suffering. And worse, there will be no action to prevent the 500 tragedies of tomorrow, and each day after that.
I’m speaking today because I want to say that we can no longer sit here and ignore this crisis. Collectively we are failing. And we are being failed by our leaders. We must change this. We must demand action.
With the Save Kids Lives campaign that we have launched for UN Global Road Safety Week, we have witnessed a movement growing around the world. Families, communities and civil society joining together demanding greater protection on the roads, particularly for their children.
Most of us have probably heard about black boxes, particularly when they relate to airplane crashes. But what about black boxes for cars?
Originally, black boxes in airplanes perform routine gathering and storing of data on all airplane operations during fly time. In the event of a specific accident or crash, the log data can be analyzed to determine or clarify the causes of an incident.
A black box for cars is a video recording device with an acceleration sensor and a GPS receiver module. It can record any situation happening in front of a vehicle and store the information in the form of digital images into a built-in memory card. A vehicle’s black box is not a newly developed technology, but an application of existing video-recording technologies for the purpose of increasing road safety. This simple technology also has played a crucial role in solving or clarifying causes related to traffic crashes. Above all, the black box for vehicles has resulted in a decrease of traffic crashes, thus saving lives.
In South Korea, for example, taxi drivers first installed vehicles’ black boxes back in 2008. Since then, vehicle black boxes have been rapidly adopted by taxis throughout the country, under the sponsorship of local governments and insurance companies.
Road crashes are becoming a global health crisis and, as such, require comprehensive measures to prevent them, including a better understanding of the social impacts of road-related deaths and injuries.
Several indicators aim to illustrate the impact of traffic crashes. The most common ones are the number of fatalities and injuries. Globally some 1.3 million people die on the road every year and up to 50 million suffer injuries. And overall economic costs of road crashes range from 2-5 percent of GDP in many countries. These economic costs provide a basis for transport safety improvement projects such as hazard location treatments, road audits, school zones and other preventive measures.
It is important, however, to turn our eyes on the impact of road crashes at the household level. The impact on a family in losing a loved one is enormous, both in terms of emotional trauma and/or loss of income or caused disability, especially when many poor countries do not have strong enough safety nets for victims of road crashes. The impact of road crashes is less understood, and lack of strong data or evidence on these is a challenge in many countries.
If a member of a family is involved in a road crash, what kind of changes are likely to occur in that particular family? If the head of household or breadwinner is killed or severely injured, the impact to that household can be devastating. There are scarcely plausible surveys that show the effects of road crashes on households because it is presumably difficult to trace victims of road crashes.
Over the past several years, Brazil has shown a commitment to improving road safety with no less than four national programs. These include Parada (literally “Stop”), Rodovida, (which, in Portuguese, is a game of words for “Road and Life”), Vida no Tránsito ( “Life in Transportation”) and BR Legal.
Unfortunately, the country’s performance remains poor compared to many other countries with similar socioeconomic characteristics. In fact, Brazil’s death toll is currently between 23 and 27 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, which is more than twice the targets of its own national strategy for 2014 and far above the best performing countries in the world, such as Sweden (three deaths per 100,000). Why?
A variety of factors contribute to this situation, from lagging infrastructure quality to the overall organization of the transport sector, characterized by insufficient integration and coordination between jurisdictions as well as across sectors. This is further epitomized by the four distinct national programs mentioned at the beginning of this post.
In mid-2014, Brazil was selected by the UN to organize the mid-term ministerial review meeting of the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020, which will take place in November 2015. A unit within the Prime Minister’s Cabinet (Casa Civil) was appointed to coordinate the national road safety program at the federal level. Soon, the Brazilian government formalized a partnership with the World Bank to advise on a short-term action plan that features three main pillars: infrastructure assessment, institutional organization, and management evaluation and knowledge sharing.
Every year, more than 1.2 million people die in traffic crashes worldwide, equivalent to nearly eight Boeing 747 plane crashes every day. As developing economies grow and private car ownership becomes more mainstream, the number of associated crashes and fatalities will continue to rise.
The challenge of traffic safety often flies under the radar in cities, where the social and economic challenges of accommodating growing populations take precedent. Without meaningful change, however, the World Health Organization (WHO) projects that traffic crashes could become the fifth leading cause of premature death worldwide by 2030. This takes a particular toll on cities, which are already home nearly half of global traffic fatalities. City leaders must prioritize traffic safety measures to ensure that their citizens have safe, healthy and economically prosperous cities to call home.
With Urban Growth Comes Traffic Safety Challenges
While there are a number of factors that contribute to traffic crashes, two of the primary challenges are rising motorization trends in cities worldwide and the issue of road equity: the most vulnerable road users, including pedestrians and cyclists, are most impacted by traffic crashes. On top of that, these users, typically lower-income, don’t always have the power or capacity to create the necessary changes.
The number of privately owned cars on the road hit the one billion mark for the first time in 2010. If we continue business-as-usual, that number will reach an estimated 2.5 billion cars by 2050. All of these new cars will lead to an increase in traffic congestion in cities worldwide, increasing the probability of traffic crashes and resulting fatalities.
Traffic fatalities are one of the world’s leading causes of preventable deaths. If the numbers stay at current growth rates, traffic fatalities will become the world’s fifth-leading cause of death by 2030. Both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations (UN) have recognized road traffic injuries as a major global public health problem, with economic consequences that could affect the sustainable development of countries and hinder progress towards reducing extreme poverty and boosting prosperity.
It is true for a country like India that thousands of deaths every year is just a statistic, but a single death can move the entire nation to take a serious look into an issue.
Merely eight days after being sworn in, the newly elected Indian Minister for Rural Development, Mr. Gopinath Munde, died in a tragic car crash. While the nation grieves at the passing of an immensely popular and celebrated leader, politicians and the public got a reality check on the seriousness of the road safety epidemic prevalent in the country today.
The irony of the event was that a day before the incident, both authors of this post met with the Joint Secretary and Executive Officers of the Ministry of Rural Development to discuss improvements to road safety under the existing World Bank-funded Rural Roads project. This news is a stark reminder for the government and the Bank alike that a lot remains to be accomplished if we are to achieve a sustainable reduction in road deaths in India.
The Minister’s death added to the alarming list of fatalities that make India’s roads among the most dangerous in the world. Official statistics say around 140,000 people in the country die of such preventable crashes every year and health reports suggest even more. Simply put, 10% of the world’s road deaths take place on India’s roads – which account for less than 3% of the world’s vehicles! In light of those figures, India urgently needs to take comprehensive action to make its roads safer.
Within that regional context, Brazil, often on the frontline and seen as an example by many on the development agenda, lags behind in road safety, especially when compared to nations with similar socioeconomic characteristics. Recently, the federal and state governments have started to take concrete action in an effort to stop the carnage on their roads, and a recent seminar on road safety in Sao Paulo gives some reasons to believe that Brazil is indeed moving in the right direction.