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Slow down to save lives

Slow down to save lives

MANILA, 5 May 2017 One of the simplest ways to avoid road traffic crashes and the millions of deaths and injuries they cause is to slow down. This warning is the World Health Organization (WHO) theme for the upcoming United Nations Global Road Safety Week.

More than 1.2 million people a year die from road traffic injuries, many young, taken in the prime of their lives. In the WHO Region for the Western Pacific alone, nearly 900 people are killed each day on the roads, with speed being a major factor in up to half of fatal crashes in most low- and
middle-income countries.

"Each one of these deaths is a tragedy that could and should have been prevented. Even those who survive horrible crashes often end up with lifelong disability," says Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific.

In addition to the terrible impact and suffering of victims and their families, road traffic deaths and injuries impose significant costs on national health systems and economies. Road traffic injuries cost some low- and middle-income countries as much as 5% their gross national product..

On a personal level, injuries often create a spiral of poverty. They can leave people unable to work or care for themselves, draining family budgets and hopes for prosperity. Like other serious health issues, the poorest and most vulnerable are at greatest risk and the most affected by road traffic injuries.

Managing speed

Every two years, United Nations Global Road Safety Week presents an opportunity to reflect on the magnitude of road traffic injuries and the urgent need to scale up action to prevent road crashes. The theme for 2017 United Nations Global Road Safety Week, to be held from 8-14 May, is managing speed to keep roads safe for pedestrians and other road users.

Increasingly crowded roadways make it even more imperative for people to slow down. The faster you drive, the higher the risk of a crash and the more severe the injuries that may occur.

For example, an adult pedestrian hit by a car travelling at 50 kilometres per hour will be seriously injured but most likely survive; whereas, that same pedestrian hit by the same car travelling at 80 kilometres per hour will likely suffer severe injuries and quite possibly die.

Reducing average travelling speeds by just 5% could reduce fatal road crashes by 30%, according to studies.

''If every vehicle on every road slowed down even a little, there would be fewer crashes – and certainly fewer serious injuries and deaths,'' notes Dr Shin.

Managing speed is more than setting speed limits; it requires conscientious law enforcement and the integration of speed management and monitoring in the design of roads and vehicles. Speed limits can be adjusted on roads according to road conditions, the quantity and types of vehicles, and pedestrian traffic.

The first step, road safety experts agree, is raising awareness on the dangers of speed.

Towards zero

“I have heard people say that death and injury on the road are an inevitable consequence of transport, motorization, and rapid economic development – and therefore that nothing can be done,” says Dr Shin. ''This is wrong.''

Road traffic injuries and deaths are not “accidents” because they can be prevented.

Under the safe systems approach to road safety recommended by WHO, zero is the only acceptable number of road deaths, Dr Shin stresses. ''A country's economic growth must be reflected in safer roads for its citizens — not and acceptance of danger.”

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) call for a 50% reduction in road traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2020. There is an urgent need to expand and accelerate the implementation of tried and tested policies to improve road safety in order to meet these ambitious but achievable development targets.

However, the pace of change has been too slow. Between 2010 and 2013, road traffic mortality rates in the region dropped by just 4%.

"This Road Safety Week, let us turn tragedy to opportunity,'' concludes Dr Shin. ''The opportunity to save so many lives."

Suggested links:

United Nations Road Safety Week

WHO Western Pacific Region: Road Traffic Injuries

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