Road Safety - Now is the Time to Learn from the Past

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Remembering the victims of traffic crashes comes all too easily to the relatives and friends of the estimated 1.3 million who lost their lives on roads last year. It is for the rest of us that the Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims was intended, to remind us of the immense suffering caused by countless individual tragedies, help us reflect on the burden their loss represents for our communities, and examine ways to control what has become an unacceptable global public health crisis.

It is hard to overstate the magnitude of today’s road safety problem. Across low- and middle-income countries, where 90 percent of the world’s fatal road crashes occur, traffic injuries are the leading cause of death among young people aged 15-29 years, hitting family heads at their most productive and overwhelming emergency health care systems. As emerging economies urbanize and see their motorization rates skyrocket, they are increasingly confronted with a time bomb – whose ticking needs to get louder to stimulate action. 

In an encouraging effort to alter the status quo, a UN Decade of Action for Road Safety was launched on May 11, 2011 in more than 100 countries, with a goal of preventing 5 million road traffic deaths and 50 million serious injuries globally by 2020. The launch of the Decade has energized governments around the world to develop national action plans and avert even worse carnage.

Yet, the reality is that road safety institutions remain weak and seriously under-resourced, presenting a formidable barrier to progress. Countries which currently have stellar road safety records took up to 30 years during periods of rapid motorization to put in place the interventions and legislative apparatus to reduce traffic death and injury rates. Now we know better and countries should not have to go through such a long process.

What role can an institution like ours play? The World Bank is one of the top road infrastructure financiers in low- and middle-income countries, and we have a stake in the long-term developmental impacts of the projects we fund. 

Our policy is to work closely with client governments to determine specific road safety interventions and provide technical assistance for activities that increase their capacity to prepare, prioritize and implement cost-effective road safety programs. Our dialogue with them already goes beyond the road "hardware" to how pedestrians use the roads to get to markets, the quality of traffic safety police enforcement, and the availability of post-crash care facilities, among many other issues.

These efforts are progressively translating into a new generation of multi-sector interventions visible across an increasing number of World Bank-funded projects. I am particularly encouraged that our work is helping public health and transport professionals collaborate in designing holistic road safety interventions, as in Argentina.


We are also introducing new mechanisms to enhance the training of our own staff, mainstream road safety within the projects we fund, and pool expertise across the World Bank’s sectoral practices. Together with the seven other development banks who form part of the MDB Road Safety Initiative, we have been engaged since 2010 in sharing what we have learned and accelerating knowledge transfer within the countries and regions we operate in.

Lastly, we recognize the value of building broad-based coalitions in advancing research, leveraging additional resources, and elevating road safety as a national priority. The World Bank has a long history of working alongside intergovernmental bodies, research institutes, philanthropies and the private sector. More recently, we have begun collaborating with the newly established Global Alliance of NGOs for Road Safety, a platform that will enhance the way civil society organizations advocate on behalf of road safety and road traffic injury victims.

Although these are signs of progress, much still remains to be done. Road safety targets will not be met until everyone recognizes that we are dealing with a global public health and economic development issue that requires scaled-up attention and investment. We owe this much to those whose lives were cut down too soon.


Additional resources:

Global Road Safety Facility
World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims
UN Road Safety Collaboration


Photo credit: European Federation of Road Traffic Victims - RoadPeace


Jose Luis Irigoyen

Senior Director, Transport and ICT Global Practice

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