Road traffic crashes are the leading cause of death among young people between 10 and 24 years, according to a new report published by the World Health Organization (WHO).
The report, Youth and Road Safety, says that nearly 400 000 young people under the age of 25 are killed in road traffic crashes every year. Millions more are injured or disabled.
The vast majority of these deaths and injuries occur in low- and middle-income countries. The highest rates are found in Africa and the Middle East. Young people from economically disadvantaged backgrounds are at greatest risk in every country. Young males are at higher risk for road traffic fatalities than females in every age group under 25 years.
Unless more comprehensive global action is taken, the number of deaths and injuries is likely to rise significantly. Road traffic collisions cost an estimated US$ 518 billion globally in material, health and other expenditure. For many low- and middle-income countries, the cost of road crashes represents between 1-1.5% of GNP and in some cases exceeds the total amount the countries receive in international development aid.
Youth and Road Safety stresses that the bulk of these crashes are predictable – and preventable. Many involve children playing on the street, young pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists, novice drivers and passengers of public transport.
The report points out that children are not just little adults. Their height, level of maturity, their interests, as well as their need to play and travel safely to school, mean they require special safety measures. Protecting older youth requires other measures such as lower blood alcohol limits for young drivers and graduated license programmes.
Special safety measures for children
Publication of the report coincides with the First United Nations Global Road Safety Week (23-29 April 2007), to draw attention to the high global rates of death, injury and disability among young people caused by road traffic crashes. Youth and Road Safety highlights examples in countries where measures such as lowering speed limits, cracking down on drunk driving, promoting and enforcing the use of seat-belts, child restraints and motorcycle helmets, as well as better road infrastructure and creating safe areas for children to play, have significantly reduced the number of deaths and injuries.
The report is accompanied by a Faces behind the figures: voices of road traffic crash victims and their families. Developed jointly by WHO and the Association for Safe International Road Travel, this book presents first-hand accounts of the experiences of victims, their families and friends following road crashes. The stories reveal the physical, psychological, emotional and economic devastation that occurs during the aftermath of road traffic deaths and injuries. They also highlight some of the initiatives undertaken to improve road safety to prevent such tragedies from happening again.
Adapted from a report by the Who Health Organisation, Health24, April 2006