More speed for less deaths

Issue 81 - May | June 2019

Nhan Tran, Road Safety Expert at the World Health Organization, reports on tentative progress in the fight against traffic accidents.

Nhan Tran, World Health Organization WHO
Nhan Tran, World Health Organization WHO
At the beginning of May, the United Nations is organizing a global road safety week. It should motivate people to demand more safety measures from politicians. Is there a lack of pressure on the topic?

TranMany people accept fatalities due to traffic accidents as an inevitable result of road traffic. The Road Safety Week should make the public aware that this need not be and that they can do something about it. Elected politicians are ultimately accountable, and if blamed by their constituents for insecure roads, the issue will also end up on their agenda. In general, awareness of traffic safety is stronger today than it was ten years ago. Clear evidence is that the issue is also in the global Sustainable Development Goals: according to the 3.6 goal. should halve the number of traffic deaths to 2020.

This goal is not achieved from today's perspective. Are there nevertheless positive trends?

Tran: There are improvements in traffic safety, but these are mostly found in richer countries. The figures in the WHO report 2018 show that, unfortunately, no low-income country has been able to reduce the number of road deaths. Countries such as Thailand and the Philippines have made progress in legislation, such as reducing speed, wearing helmets and using child restraint systems. However, there are no poorer countries where road safety is seen as a comprehensive agenda. This includes good laws to lower risk behaviors such as driving, driving too fast and using belts or helmets. And it also includes investments in road infrastructure and public transport.

What do you mean by good infrastructure measures?

Tran: The way cities and roads are designed has a big impact on driving and the risk of death in accidents. The number of deaths can be reduced if, for example, cyclists and pedestrians are separated from the motorized traffic. Bogotá has thus very successfully reduced the number of accident victims. Another great move is the creation of Bus Rapid Transit systems, which are now available in many Latin American countries. BRTs are similar to subterranean subways and can safely move large numbers of people.

In Africa, for a few months, there has been an observatory that collects accidental data. Why is that important?

Tran: Data is extremely important, especially for Africa. In fact, in many countries the actual number of road deaths in traffic is unknown. As governments therefore do not recognize or understand the true dimensions, road safety also has little priority. The Observatory, together with the work of WHO, will help countries to detect accidents. These will provide more insight into when, where and why accidents occur.

What can the private sector contribute?

Tran: Road safety is not a product made by the public sector. Road safety depends on how traffic and mobility systems are built, and the private sector is an essential part of it. However, its role is not the same as that of the public sector. For example, companies should ensure that cars are safer, drivers are not distracted by means of communication and that global standards are adhered to in road construction. But it is not the job of a car manufacturer to run health campaigns. There are public health experts for that. Every sector is important and can make a contribution to road safety.

Many thanks for the interview!
Photo: Nhan Tran

To the main story

Worldwide 3.700 dead in the day. According to the WHO, road accidents are the eighth most common cause of death in all age groups (even before HIV / AIDS and tuberculosis) and the leading cause of death in children and young adults.

Avoidable tragedies

Bad roads, drunk driving, unsafe vehicles - there are many reasons for road accidents, and often they do not go well: every year, an estimated 1,35 million people die as a result of an accident ...