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Road safety the focus of 2004 World Health Day

7 April 2004

Road safety the focus of 2004 World Health Day

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has chosen road safety as the theme of this year's World Health Day, an event held each year on April 7 to mark the organisation's establishment in 1948.

The dedication of World Health Day 2004 to road safety reflects the fact that WHO (the United Nations specialised agency for health) regards road trauma as a major global public health issue. Every year 1.2 million people are killed in road crashes worldwide, and up to 50 million more are injured. That is one person killed on the world's roads every 25 seconds - 140 deaths per hour, 3,400 deaths per day.

On current projections, WHO estimates that by the year 2020 road crashes will climb from ninth place to the third most common cause of death and disability.

While WHO is giving special attention to the spiraling crash rates of developing countries, road trauma is also a major public health issue in the developed world.

In New Zealand one person is killed on the road every 19 hours. Since the country's first road death was recorded in 1908 more than 34,000 people have died on New Zealand roads - 5,000 in the last ten years. The annual social cost of road crashes to the country is over $3 billion.

Fifty percent of road deaths worldwide involve young adults aged 15-44 - the most economically productive segment of society. In New Zealand the figure is even higher - 58 percent of those killed over the last five years have been aged 15-44.

Motor vehicle crashes are the number two cause of premature death among 15-44 year-old males worldwide, behind HIV/AIDS. Motor vehicle crashes are also the number two cause of premature death among 15-44 year-old males in New Zealand, behind suicide.

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"Road crashes are a major public health issue for this country - they inflict a huge amount of pain and suffering on our people. There is no miracle cure, but there are effective treatments for reducing the trauma. Carefully planned and sustained efforts in the areas of education, engineering and enforcement have helped us reduce deaths and injuries on New Zealand roads in spite of significant increases in population and the vehicle fleet," said Director of Land Transport Safety David Wright.

The deadliest year on our roads was 1973, when 843 were killed. As recently as 1990 there were 730 road deaths in New Zealand. Since then the number of annual road deaths has been brought down by 37 percent, in spite of a 27 percent increase in the number of vehicles on the road and a 17 percent increase in population.

Since 1990 New Zealand road deaths per 100,000 population have been brought down by 46 percent, deaths per 10,000 vehicles by 48 percent and deaths per vehicle kilometre traveled by 54 percent.

Mr Wright said while significant progress has been made, the fact that road deaths increased to 461 last year from the record low of 404 reached in 2002 should serve as a reminder that new measures are needed if the overall downward trend in road deaths which began in the early 1990's is to continue.

"To counteract the upward pressure of a growing population and increasing traffic volumes, steps have to be taken to push the number of crashes back down. In New Zealand we've accomplished that by continually introducing new measures - compulsory breath testing in 1993, the enforcement and advertising campaign in 1995, photo driver licences, roadside licence suspension and vehicle impoundment in 1999, the Highway Patrol in 2000 - along with on-going road engineering works, education campaigns and advances in vehicle safety.

"Every time an effective new measure is introduced, the number of crashes drops. If you stop introducing new measures, traffic growth pushes the number of crashes,

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deaths and injuries back up. That's why we need new measures - without them the number of crashes, deaths and injuries will inevitably rise."

Mr Wright said the new enforcement measures targeting repeat and serious drink-driving and excessive speed announced by Government last year were needed to help reduce crashes. He said an additional $47 million for road safety engineering projects announced in October 2003 and the new Up to Scratch road-code education campaign launched this week are also part of a co-ordinated, long-term strategy to bring the road toll down.

"The Government has set a target of no more than 300 road deaths and no more than 4,500 hospitalisations per year by 2010. Meeting those goals will not be easy, but the new engineering, education and enforcement measures announced in recent months are important steps.

"Achieving the 2010 goals will require a long-term commitment by government agencies and New Zealand communities. It will also require a commitment from drivers to behave sensibly, to accept that they have a responsibility to contribute to road safety and to recognise that other road users also have rights," Mr Wright said.

The World Health Organisation has identified five 'key areas for effective interventions' to improve road safety world-wide. These are:

1) Speed - WHO identifies speed as a contributing factor to at least 30 percent of road traffic crashes and deaths worldwide. Recommended interventions include enforcing speed limits with speed cameras or stationary enforcement, education and public information.
3) Drink-driving - WHO says the risk of crashes increases significantly with blood alcohol levels greater than 40mg/100mL. Recommended interventions include enforcing blood-alcohol limits through random breath testing, tough and swift penalties for offenders, mass media campaigns and the use of ignition interlocks.

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5) Seat belts and child restraints - WHO estimates that seatbelt usage has saved more lives worldwide than any other road safety intervention. Recommended interventions include enforcing seatbelt and child restraint laws, publicity campaigns and child restraint loan schemes.
7) Helmets - WHO identities head trauma as the major cause of death and disability for motorcycle riders, and bicycle injuries as the leading cause of injury among children. Recommended interventions including targeted information campaigns and enforcement of helmet-wearing laws.
9) Visibility - WHO reports one third of pedestrians hit on the road had difficulty seeing the vehicle and almost half the drivers had difficulty seeing the pedestrian. Recommended interventions include wearing reflective clothing, improved street lighting and use of daytime running lights.
For more details on World Health Day:

New Zealand Road Crash Data, 1990-2003
Deaths per:
Year Road Deaths Population (million) Vehicles (million) 100,000 population 10,000 vehicles 100m vehicle km traveled*
1990 730 3.4104 2.1977 21.4 3.3 2.6
1991 650 3.4497 2.2201 18.8 2.9 2.2
1992 646 3.4854 2.2271 18.5 2.9 2.2
1993 600 3.5248 2.2438 17.0 2.7 2.0
1994 580 3.5772 2.2893 16.2 2.5 1.8
1995 582 3.6432 2.3546 16.0 2.5 1.8
1996 514 3.7174 2.3798 13.8 2.2 1.5
1997 539 3.7611 2.3927 14.3 2.3 1.5
1998 501 3.7909 2.4404 13.2 2.1 1.4
1999 508 3.8107 2.5123 13.3 2.0 1.4
2000 462 3.8308 2.6017 12.1 1.8 1.2
2001 455 3.8501 2.6332 11.8 1.7 1.3
2002 404 3.9391 2.7095 10.3 1.5 1.1
2003 461 4.0092 2.8010 11.6 1.7 1.2
*Deaths per 100 million vehicle kilometres traveled are estimates.

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