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road fatalities

Some solutions for improving pedestrian safety

Irene Portabales González's picture
Also available in: Spanish
Road with independent space for pedestrians, cyclists and cars in San Isidro. Photo: World Bank
We all have an intuitive sense that pedestrians are particularly vulnerable to road traffic crashes. After all, there is only so much the human body can take. At 30 km per hour, a pedestrian has a 90% chance to survive an impact. But if a vehicle hits you at 50 km/h while you’re walking down the street, that collision will have the same impact a falling from the fourth floor of a building.

Data from the World Health Organization (WHO) confirms that road crashes do indeed take a serious toll on pedestrians. In 2013, more than 270,000 pedestrians lost their lives globally, representing almost 1/5 of the total number of deaths.

In the United States, numbers from Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reveal a 46% increase in the number of pedestrians dying on the road, largely due to the expansion of rapid arterial roads in urban and suburban areas.

In Peru, where we’re based traffic crashes data pertaining to pedestrians are just as startling. According to the Ministry of Health, almost half of pedestrians involved in a collision sustain multiple injuries, and 22% of them suffer from trauma to the head. The chances of a fatal outcome or other serious consequences are very high.

Getting to zero traffic fatalities: What will it take?

Irene Portabales González's picture
Also available in: Español
Photo: Geraint Rowland
We must stop deaths on the roads. No one would argue with that, of course. But for us who live in Peru and many other developing countries, the importance of making road safety a global development priority really hits home—especially after a string of dramatic crashes that have made headlines across the country.

Last February, a bus fell to the bottom of a 200-metre ravine and left 45 dead in Arequipa, including several children. A month before, the country witnessed its deadliest traffic crash on record when a bus plunged down a cliff in Pasamayo, just north of Lima, killing some 52 people.

According to government data, 89,304 traffic crashes were reported on the Peruvian road network in 2016, with a total of 2,696 fatalities. However, the latter figure only includes deaths occurring within 24 hours of a crash, and does not account for victims who may die from their injuries later on.

The global statistics are equally concerning. The World Health Organization (WHO) shows in its Global status report on road safety 2015 that traffic crashes represent one of the main causes of death globally, and is actually the leading cause for people aged 15 to 29.

Why sustainable mobility matters

Hartwig Schafer's picture
Photo: Mariana Gil/WRI
In the 1960s, the vision of future mobility was people with jet packs and flying cars – we believed these innovations wouldn’t be far off after the moon landing in 1969. Obviously, the reality in 2017 is somewhat different.

Today, we have congestion in cities, rural areas cut off from the rest of the world, and too many people without access to safe, efficient, and green transport. This stifles markets and hinders people from the jobs that will help them escape poverty. Without access to sustainable mobility, it will be much harder—if not impossible— to end poverty and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

And perhaps the most tragic reality is this: that approximately 1.3 million people die each year in traffic-related incidents. Young people, those between the ages of 15-29, are the most affected by road crashes. This heartbreaking and preventable loss of life should be a clear signal that road safety matters.

At the same time, how we change transport is vitally important and will impact generations to come.

Motorization and its discontents

Roger Gorham's picture
Photo: Sarah Farat/World Bank
They say a picture is worth a thousand words.  While visiting the World Bank library the other day, I was struck by how many development publications featured pictures of motor vehicles on their covers, even though most of them covered topics that had little to do with transport.  The setting and tone of the pictures varied – sometimes they showed a lone car on a rural highway, sometimes congested vehicles in urban traffic, and sometimes a car displayed proudly as a status symbol – but the prevalence of motorized vehicles as a visual metaphor for development was unmistakable to me: in the public imagination, consciously or otherwise, many people associate development with more use of motorized vehicles.

Indeed, motorization – the process of adopting and using motor vehicles as a core part of economic and daily life – is closely linked with other dimensions of development such as urbanization and industrialization.

Motorization, however, is a double-edged sword.

For many households, being able to afford their own vehicle is often perceived as the key to accessing more jobs, more services, more opportunities—not to mention a status symbol. Likewise, vehicles can unlock possibilities for firms and individual entrepreneurs such as the young man from Uganda pictured on the right, proudly showing off his brand new boda boda (motorcycle taxi). 

But motorization also comes with a serious downside, in terms of challenges that many governments have difficulty managing.  Motor vehicles can undermine the livability of cities by cluttering up roads and open spaces—the scene of chaos and gridlock in the picture below, from Accra, is a telling example. In addition, vehicles create significant safety hazards for occupants and bystanders alike… in many developing countries, road deaths have effectively reached epidemic proportions. From an environmental standpoint, motorized transport is, of course, a major contributor to urban air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Lastly, motorization contributes to countries' hard currency challenges by exacerbating their long-term demand for petroleum products.

Given these challenges, how are developing countries going to align their motorization trajectories with their development goals?  What should the World Bank advise our clients about how to manage this process?

Halving road deaths

Pierre Guislain's picture
Road traffic fatalities per 100,000 population
Roads are the dominant means of transportation worldwide. They connect people, communities, and markets together—bringing opportunities to the poor and enabling broad-based economic growth. Yet every year, millions of tragic and preventable deaths and serious injuries result from road safety failings. Although solutions are available and progress has been made, efforts to reduce traffic fatalities remain insufficient, especially in low and middle income countries. Urgent action is needed if we are to achieve the Sustainable Development target 3.6 of cutting the number of road fatalities in half.
 
As things stand, every 30 seconds a person is killed in a road crash. To see how many road deaths there are in your country each year, click here. And that’s not all: for every death in a road crash, there are generally at least 20 times as many injuries.
 
In many countries, school children have to gamble their lives to get an education, crossing against speeding traffic to get to school. Approximately 500 children die every day in road crashes, with many of these deaths occurring when children try to cross the road on their way to and from school. Click here to see Luc Besson’s striking 3-minute film on this situation.
 
Over 90% of road fatalities and injuries occur in low and middle income countries. Rapid motorization in developing countries, when it takes place without effective road safety management and infrastructure, contributes to the epidemic of road deaths.

Minister’s Death in a Crash: A Wake up Call for India

Arnab Bandyopadhyay's picture
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.