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The global perspective on road safety

By Dr Joseph FroncioniSometimes it’s helpful to step back and look at the bigger picture. At this time, it is particularly appropriate to do so given that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has just published its Global Status Report on Road Safety 2013.

In May 2010, the UN General Assembly proclaimed the period 2011—2020 as the Decade of Action for Road Safety.

The stated goal of this initiative is to stabilise and then reduce the forecast level of road traffic fatalities around the world by increasing activities conducted at the national, regional and global levels. The WHO Report serves as a baseline to assess the state of global road safety at the onset of the decade.

Road safety interventions addressing key risk factors — speed, drink — driving, motorcycle helmets, seat-belts and child restraints have proven their effectiveness and the Report points out that since 2008, 35 countries have passed new laws or amended existing legislation covering one or more of these risk factors. Nevertheless, in many countries these laws are either not comprehensive in scope or are lacking altogether.

Governments, including Bermuda’s, must do more to ensure that their national road safety laws meet best practice and do more to enforce these laws.

Road traffic injuries are the eighth leading cause of death globally, and the leading cause of death for young people aged 15—29. More than a million people die each year on the world’s roads, and the economic burden runs to billions of dollars. Current trends suggest that by 2030 road traffic deaths will become the fifth leading cause of death unless urgent action is taken.

Although the report does not mention Bermuda specifically, it is a useful exercise to cautiously throw ourselves into the mix. The report groups 171 countries into high, middle and low income and Bermuda having the fourth highest per capita income and the third highest GDP (purchasing power parity) per capita in the world (2011 estimate) can fairly be included in the first. So how do we rate?

In terms of road traffic deaths per 100,000 population, the average for high income countries is 8.7. Bermuda’s average over the last decade is 18.1, a figure more in keeping with low (18.3) and middle income (20.1) countries. When the Report looks at road deaths by region, Bermuda’s statistics place it with African, Middle Eastern, Western Pacific and South-East Asian countries. Really? I hope you agree that this is not where we belong.

The report covers global progress in legislative efforts to reduce speed, reduce drinking and driving, increasing motorcycle helmet and seat belt use and increasing the use of child restraints and includes some final recommendations as follows:

— Governments urgently need to pass comprehensive legislation that meets best practice on all key risk factors to address this preventable cause of death, injury and disability.

— Governments should invest sufficient financial and human resources in the enforcement of these laws, as an essential component for their success. Raising public awareness can be an important strategy in increasing understanding of and support for such legislative and enforcement measures.

— Concerted effort is needed to make road infrastructure safer for pedestrians and cyclists. The needs of these road users must be taken into consideration earlier, when road safety policy, transport planning and land use decisions are made. In particular, governments need to consider how non-motorised forms of transport can be integrated into more sustainable and safer transport systems.

Will our elected officials take these valuable recommendations to heart? Your guess is as good as mine, dear reader, but if you want to see Bermuda’s road statistics come down to an acceptable level, I would suggest you poke them a bit harder.

Dr Froncioni is a board member of CADA. The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect CADA’s position.

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Published May 09, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated May 08, 2013 at 8:37 pm)

The global perspective on road safety

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