The latest World Health Organization (WHO) report on global road safety, spanning from 2010 to 2021, reveals a slight decline in the annual number of road traffic deaths to 1.19 million.
However, the statistics still paint a grim picture, with more than 2 deaths occurring per minute and over 3200 per day, highlighting road traffic crashes as the leading cause of mortality among children and young adults aged 5–29 years.
Incremental Progress Amidst Lingering Crisis
Though the report indicates a 5% decrease in road traffic deaths since 2010, it emphasizes the persistent and critical nature of road safety as a global health crisis. Vulnerable road users, including pedestrians, cyclists, and others, continue to face escalating risks of fatalities.
WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus expressed concern, stating that while the reduction in road crash deaths is a step in the right direction, the pace of improvement remains insufficient. Dr Tedros urged countries to prioritize people over vehicles in their transport systems, emphasizing the need to ensure the safety of pedestrians, cyclists, and other vulnerable road users.
Regional Disparities and Vulnerable Demographics
The report unveils regional disparities, with variations in the distribution of road traffic deaths across different WHO regions. Shockingly, nine out of ten deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, where the fatality rate outweighs the number of vehicles and road infrastructure available. The risk of death in low-income countries is three times higher compared to high-income nations, despite the latter possessing 99% of the world’s motor vehicles.
Additionally, vulnerable road users such as pedestrians, motorcycle riders, cyclists, and users of micro-mobility devices constitute more than half of all road traffic fatalities. Pedestrian deaths increased by 3%, reaching 274,000, while cyclist fatalities surged by nearly 20%, totaling 71,000 deaths globally.
Urgent Need for Policy and Standardization
The report identifies a glaring lack of progress in implementing laws and safety standards. Only a handful of countries comply with WHO best practices for risk factors like speeding, drink-driving, and use of safety equipment such as helmets, seatbelts, and child restraints. Moreover, a mere fraction of countries have legislated on crucial vehicle safety features and road infrastructure inspections, highlighting significant gaps in ensuring overall road safety.
Call to Action for Governments and Global Cooperation
The WHO report underlines the urgency for stronger commitments from governments worldwide to address road safety comprehensively. While acknowledging progress made in certain countries in reducing road traffic deaths, the report stresses the need for enhanced efforts, policies, and investment to achieve the United Nations Decade of Action 2021–2030 target of halving road traffic deaths by 2030.
The report, produced with the support of Bloomberg Philanthropies, underscores the imperative to prioritize road safety interventions globally. Bloomberg Philanthropies, having committed $500 million since 2007 to support road safety initiatives in low- and middle-income countries, emphasizes the vital role of collective action and continued advocacy to save lives on the world’s roads.
The WHO Global status report on road Safety 2023 serves as a pivotal baseline for concerted endeavors to tackle the escalating challenge of road traffic fatalities and endeavors to pave the way for a safer global road network.