PAHO calls for strengthening road safety legislation

News Hour:

Deaths from road traffic injuries, mainly among motorcyclists, increased by 3% in the Americas between 2010 and 2013, according to the new Report on Road Safety in the Region of the Americas, published by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Regional Office of the World Health Organization (WHO). To reverse this trend, PAHO is urging countries to strengthen their road safety legislation and enforcement.

The new report provides a snapshot of the road safety situation in 31 countries and territories of the Western Hemisphere, based on the latest available data. It shows that more than 154,000 people died as a result of traffic-related injuries in the Americas in 2013. This represents nearly 12% of all traffic-related deaths at the global level, where  traffic injuries are the leading cause of death among young people ages 15 to 29,  particularly among men (73%).

“Road traffic crashes continue to cause too many preventable injuries and deaths and place a heavy load on healthcare services,” said PAHO Director Carissa F. Etienne. “Strong and sustained enforcement of effective laws and public awareness campaigns are vital to reduce this burden.”

Road safety laws improve road user behavior and reduce road traffic crashes, injuries and deaths. The report says that countries have generally not done enough to implement the five key measures that are known to be most effective: maximum speed limits of 50 km/h in urban areas, required seat-belt use for all vehicle occupants, blood alcohol limits of no more than 0.05g/dl for drivers, mandated helmet use for all motorcycle riders, and required use of child restraints in vehicles.

Highlights from the report include:
  • 29 countries and territories of the Americas have some type of national seat-belt law, but only 19 have legislation requiring seat-belt use for all vehicle occupants;
  • 6 countries have national laws on driving under the influence that set maximum blood alcohol concentration at 0.05g/dl or less for adult drivers and 0.02 g/dl or less for young or novice drivers;
  • 17 countries and territories have national laws that set a maximum speed of 50 km/h in urban areas, and 13 have legislation allowing local authorities to reduce speed limits even further. Only 5 countries have laws meeting both those criteria, which is considered a best practice;
  • 10 countries and territories have national laws requiring helmet use for drivers and passengers on all types of motorcycles and for all engine types while also requiring the helmet to be properly fastened and to meet international safety standards;
  • 13 countries and territories have national child-restraint legislation on the books for children in all types of vehicles, based on age, height or weight, and restricting children from sitting in the front seat, based on age or height.

Almost half of all road deaths in the Americas are among those users with the least protection: motorcyclists (who represent 20% of traffic deaths), pedestrians (22%) and cyclists (3%).

Deaths among motorcyclists grew the most among traffic fatalities. The report finds that motorcycle deaths rose from 15% to 20% of all road deaths between 2010 and 2013. However, when examined by subregion, nearly half (47%) of traffic-related deaths in the Spanish-speaking Caribbean (Cuba and the Dominican Republic) involved motorcyclists. This increase is associated with the hemisphere’s expanding motorcycle fleet, which almost doubled from 2007 to 2013, rising from 6% to 11% of all motor vehicles.

“Rapid urbanization, the need to get around quickly, and improved economic growth in some countries have contributed to the fact that people who previously walked now ride a motorcycle,” said Eugenia Rodrigues, PAHO’s Regional Advisor on Road Safety. “Having a safe, affordable and efficient public transportation system and good infrastructure, with sidewalks, traffic lights, footpaths, and crossings, is key to protect health and also to increase people’s physical activity.”

The Decade of Action for Road Safety (2011–2020) calls on countries to implement internationally identified measures to make their roads safer. PAHO monitors progress through its regional report, while WHO monitors the global situation through its Global Status Report on Road Safety series.

In September 2015, heads of state attending the United Nations General Assembly adopted the historic Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which includes a target (3.6) to halve the global number of deaths and injuries from road traffic crashes by 2020.

“While progress has been achieved in recent years, much more needs to be done to galvanize urgent action and to save more lives,” noted Etienne.

PAHO/WHO works with the countries of the Americas to move towards attaining the Sustainable Development Goals on road safety and to implement its Plan of Action on Road Safety (2012-2017) and the commitments of the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020. In this regard, PAHO/WHO works to strengthen the role of the health sector in road safety, prevent road traffic injuries, give technical assistance for adopting and implementing good traffic laws, and advise on the adoption of road safety strategies that can save lives.

Key facts about road safety
  • Higher traffic speeds increase the likelihood of crashes as well as the severity of injuries, especially for pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists. An adult pedestrian has less than a 20% chance of dying if struck by a car moving at less than 50 km/h but nearly a 60% risk of dying if hit at 80 km/h.
  • Driving under the influence of alcohol increases the likelihood of road traffic crash as well as death or serious injury.
  • Wearing a motorcycle helmet can reduce the risk of death by nearly 40% and the risk of severe injury by approximately 70%.
  • Wearing a seatbelt reduces the risk of death among drivers and front-seat passengers by 45–50%, and the risk of minor and serious injuries by 20% and 45%, respectively. For rear-seat passengers, seatbelts reduce fatal and serious injuries by 25% and minor injuries by up to 75%.
  • Child restraints reduce the likelihood of death in a crash by approximately 90% among infants and between 54% and 80% among young children. Additionally, children are safer seated in the rear of a vehicle than in the front.

Md. Rafiuzzaman Sifat, a CSE graduate turned into journalist, works at News Hour as a staff reporter. He has many years of experience in featured writing in different Bangladeshi newspapers. He is an active blogger, story writer and social network activist. He published a book named 'Se Amar Gopon' inEkushe boi mela Dhaka 2016. Sifat got a BSc. from Ahsanullah University of Science & Technology, Bangladesh. He also works as an Engineer at Bangla Trac Communications Ltd. As an avid traveler and a gourmet food aficionado, he is active in publishing restaurant reviews and cutting-edge articles about culinary culture.
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