Worldwide Road Deaths- A Major Epidemic

Dated: 04/12/2012

Very few people realize that traffic deaths are one of the leading causes of death in the world and the number one cause of death for young people. This is because they happen one by one, here and there, and not in mass events, so they get less attention. (1)

Here’s one way to get attention: traffic deaths worldwide kill the equivalent number of people as would perish in 9 jumbo jet crashes every day. Think of the headlines for 9 jet crashes every day of the year.

World traffic injuries are taking the lives of 145 people every hour of every day (totaling 3500 per day). This is more than two a minute and adds up to something like 1.3 million people dying on the world’s roads each year and a further 20 to 30 million people suffering injuries, often debilitating ones. As Mike Bloomberg says, “Make no mistake about it: this is a problem that affects us all—especially the world’s poorest. Ninety percent of these fatalities occur in the world’s rapidly urbanizing low-and middle-income nations.” (2)

For comparison purposes, in the United States about 115 people die every day on our roads, about one death every 13 minutes. (3)

Bloomberg adds, “And at the same time, 74 million new cars are hitting the world’s roads each year—roughly half of those in low-and middle-income nations. And if you do the math, that works out to roughly 65 new cars a minute. Now, as new roads get built, and more cars and drivers take to the road, the problem of road safety will only get worse. In fact, The World Health Organization predicts that traffic crashes will become the world’s 5th leading cause of death by the year 2030.” (2)

How to fix the problem? New York City in one example. The City has worked very hard to improve road safety by a combination of engineering innovations, stronger enforcement, and public information campaigns. For instance, by engineering traffic signals and expanding medians, they’ve given people more time to cross wide streets safely. They’ve expanded bike lanes and seen a rise in safety for everyone on those roads. Since 2004, there have been fewer traffic fatalities each year on New York streets at any time since the year 1910, which was the first year these kinds of statistics began to be kept.

Think about this. New York is safer today than they were when the population was much smaller. It just goes to show that a difference can be made, reports Mike Bloomberg. He adds, “But as we’ve learned in our city over the past nine years, many other interventions can be effective as well. That includes promoting the use of seat belts and helmets, tougher enforcement of drinking and driving laws, safer speed controls and improved mass transit options.” Now, drawing on these lessons, his foundation has launched a five-year $125 million program to improve road safety around the world. The campaign is targeting the 10 low-and middle-income countries that make up almost half of all road traffic fatalities worldwide. (2)

On another front, the year 2011 marked the start of a UN Decade of Action for Road Safety. This marked something of a breakthrough. After years of neglect, road safety has at last registered as a global public health epidemic that can only be effectively treated through international cooperation. (4)

1. Randy Walton, “Traffic accidents, leading cause of deaths worldwide,”, June 16, 2009
2. Mike Bloomberg, “Importance of reducing global traffic fatalities,”, April 19, 2011
3., “How many deaths are caused by car accidents a year?”, accessed November 24, 2012
4. Kevin Watkins, “Safe and sustainable roads: an agenda for Rio +20,” October 2012

Jack Dini
Livermore, CA

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