Want dramatic road safety results? Look to South Korea.

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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.
Decreasing road fatalities in South Korea, 1990-2015

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.

On the enforcement side, for example, transport safety acts, regulations and guidelines (explained below) were thoroughly revised and complemented when needed. A number of speeding and red-run cameras also were installed on road sides.

On the engineering side, transport facilities including infrastructure and safety controls (such as guardrails, new pavement and speed controls) were improved across thousands of hazardous locations.

On the education side, driver's license issuing programs are reviewed, as were tactics to discourage drunk driving and other high-risk behaviors.

These comprehensive efforts resulted in a 59.1 percent reduction of total road crash deaths affecting the general population: from 11,460 deaths to 4,762 over the same 22-year period. An almost 60 percent reduction of total road crash deaths already is a considerable achievement. However, this figure only partially explains the 96.6 percent reduction of children deaths due to road and traffic injuries.

In fact, experts around the world wonder what policies and strategies played key roles in achieving these results. From our point of view, we think that a couple of initiatives — besides the comprehensive policies already mentioned — seem crucial in preventing road crashes affecting children.

ImageThe first one is School Zones, which are an effective preventive measure. A school zone is defined as an area within 300 meters from the main entrance of a school, and where road facilities are designed under specific school zone design guidelines. Moreover, traffic enforcement in school zones is also much stricter.

For example, vehicle speed in school zones is generally set at less than 30 km per hour, and drivers violating traffic regulations in school zones are punished much more severely than in other public areas: drivers can have their licenses suspended if caught driving a car over 40 km per hour in a school zone.  As of 2012, there were more than 9,000 school zones in Korea.  

Secondly, civic organizations also play an essential role. Among civic groups in Korea, for example, the Korea Green Mothers Society (KGMS) is the most influential. This non-profit volunteer service organization with some 530,000 members nationwide — mostly parents of elementary school students — has played a crucial role in promoting and increasing road safety around school zones. Every day, members of KGMS conduct “guiding” activities along school routes to ensure children’s safe travel to and from school. KGMS also hosts a diversity of events like the Traffic Accident-Free Campaign for kids, actively publicizing the gravity of road crashes involving children as well as participating in various campaigns designed to promote road safety, establish more traffic order and prevent drunk driving.

The powerful symbolism involved in saving kids’ lives also seems to have a strong appeal with politicians and high-ranking officials. As a result, politicians are very cooperative in dealing with kids’ safety improvement issues, and can help implement local campaigns as well as deliver important messages to target audiences. This means that financial support and fund-raising activities are easier to implement, compared to other transport issues or challenges. And activities of civic groups like KGMS seem to benefit from the attention of politicians and high- ranking officials, and the latter can also score political gains (and votes) by supporting activities of groups like the Korea Green Mothers Society.

The World Bank is cooperating with the UN and other partners to achieve the objectives of the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011–2020, which aim to halve the number of deaths and injuries from traffic-related crashes. Worldwide, approximately 1.24 million people die on the roads every year and some 50 million are injured. These losses in lives and productivity can cost countries’ GDPs up to five percent.
From our point of view, strategies for targeting traffic crashes affecting kids need to become a priority because these traffic crashes occur mainly at specific points or sites (school zones, playgrounds, parks, etc.) where prevention strategies can work effectively, particularly under the firm support of local politicians and community organizations, as well as high-level officials interested in promoting road safety for all.
We think this could be a concrete and realistic contribution to saving lives during the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety, and beyond. 
What do you think?  In the countries where you work, is there room to implement an effective safety system approach that will help save more children’s lives? 


Nak Moon Sung

Senior Transport Specialist

Mauricio Ríos

Communications Officer, Transport

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