More than 1.3 million people worldwide die in road accidents each year, according to the International Transport Forum (ITF). If nothing is done, this already chilling figure risks to rise to 1.9 million deaths per year. Around 90% of road fatalities occur in emerging and developing countries. Here, the mixture of population growth and higher numbers of vehicles due to rising incomes are proving a deadly combination, as infrastructure and regulatory environment have difficulty keeping pace.
By contrast, in OECD countries the number of road fatalities has fallen dramatically over the past decade, in some cases by 50%. The latest data for Sweden, one of the leaders in road safety, shows 2.8 road deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, a figure thought unattainable only a few years back. But even in the developed world, far too many still fall victim to traffic: more than 100,000 men, women and children die on the roads of OECD countries—around 300 every day.
To combat the continuing carnage on the world’s roads, the United Nations has proclaimed 2011 to 2020 the Decade of Action for Road Safety. May 2011 marks the global launch of this ambitious global initiative. In the 10 years up to 2020, governments, international organizations, civil society groups and the transport industry will intensify their collaboration to stabilize and then cut road fatalities by promoting road safety measures at all levels.
The ITF is part of this effort. Its work focuses on overcoming the disconnect between the advances seen in some countries and the worsening situation in others, by facilitating knowledge transfer, encouraging best practices and benchmarking:
- Through the International Traffic Safety Data and Analysis Group, ITF provides comparative data and policy advice that help countries to calibrate their road safety policies and achieve demonstrable progress;
- ITF’s report "Towards Zero. Ambitious Road Safety Targets and the Safe System Approach" (2008) called for adoption of a Safe System Approach in all countries, with a long-term vision of no deaths or serious injuries on the road, backed by tough but realistic operational targets; and
- Other recent work on cycling safety and on pedestrians, provide analysis and policy suggestions that can help avoid unnecessary deaths.
“We are pleased to contribute to this important and necessary UN initiative,” said Jack Short, secretary general of ITF, at a joint press conference with the World Health Organisation during the International Transport Forum’s 2011 summit in Leipzig, Germany.
"We have a five-decade-long track record in developing and introducing effective road safety policies and will bring our experience in this field to the table during the Decade of Action. Our political recommendations provide a solid base for action and, if implemented around the world, would save hundreds of thousands of lives. Our research is at the cutting edge, identifying the next generation of policies to save lives. The way forward is knowledge transfer, exchange of best practice and benchmarking based on clear targets."
Added Véronique Feypell-de la Beaumelle, ITF's road safety coordinator: "We must create more and better ways for countries to learn from each other. The toolbox exists and can be adapted for countries that face growing populations with more cars on the one hand and an infrastructure and regulatory framework that is not adapted to rapidly growing traffic volumes."