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Road safety remains low political priority despite growing number of people killed – new study

Written by Clare Cummings, Daniel Harris

Road safety remains a remarkably low political priority in cities around the world, despite the growing number of people killed in traffic collisions, a new study warns. Without urgent action, it is unlikely the targets on road safety set out in the Sustainable Development Goals will be met by 2030, and millions more people will die or be injured on the roads.

An estimated 1.25 million people are killed and up to 50 million are injured in traffic collisions each year. Of the fatalities, 90 percent occur in low- and middle-income countries, where urbanisation is fastest. Most are poorer working-age males who tend to use vulnerable modes of transport such as walking, cycling and motorcycling.

Research, including in-depth analysis in three cities – Nairobi, Mumbai and Bogotá – led by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and World Resources Institute (WRI), found it is the poorer sections of society who bear the brunt of traffic-related injuries and deaths, and that both politicians and the public tend to blame individual road users for collisions, rather than policy-makers or planners.

In many cases, road safety is seen to be in direct conflict with other priorities, such as reduced congestion, shorter journey times, or public spending in other areas.

But the report, ‘Securing safe roads: the politics of change,’ finds it is possible to balance competing interests and still improve road safety.

‘We are increasingly equipped with better knowledge about the types of interventions that can reduce fatalities and serious injuries caused by traffic collisions,’ said ODI researcher Daniel Harris, one of the report authors. ‘These deaths and their enormous social and financial tolls are not inevitable, yet we have seen little progress.’

‘It’s clear that there is a political dimension to reducing road deaths,’ said author Anna Bray Sharpin, transportation associate at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities. ‘It is important that those trying to improve road safety focus as much on building the political case as on the technical solutions.’

Bogotá halved the number of traffic fatalities between 1996 and 2006. The study suggests the fall was due in part to reframing road fatalities as a public health issue and taking an integrated approach to road safety. Improved public transit and pedestrian and cycling infrastructure gave more people safer travel options.

The report makes a series of recommendations including:

  • Tackle road safety alongside other issues, such as addressing congestion
  • Reframe road safety in public debates, making connections with issues that people care about such as the economy, equality and education
  • Build alliances at all levels of government, including local and regional and national
  • Produce a dedicated road safety plan with short, medium and long-term aims and objectives

Saul Billingsley, executive director of the FIA Foundation, which supported the project, said: ‘Road traffic deaths and injuries are not ‘accidents’. They are the direct consequence of system failures and political choices. This report clearly shows that, when political will is focused on ending needless road deaths, lives can be saved very quickly, but that focus must translate into long-term investment. If we are to achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals target to halve road deaths, a commitment to which Kenya, Colombia and India have all signed up, politicians must start listening and provide safe mobility for the majority of the people who walk, cycle and use public transport.’


Notes to editors

  • The report, “Securing Safe Roads: The Politics of Change,” will be published on Friday, March 23, along with three case studies on Bogotá, Mumbai and Nairobi.
  • The World Health Organization’s (WHO) “Global Status Report on Road Safety 2015” estimates that 1.25 million people are killed and up to 50 million are injured in traffic collisions each year.
  • Data published by WHO shows 90 percent of deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries and that poorer working-age males make up the highest proportion of those that are killed.
  • WHO estimates the annual economic cost of traffic fatalities and injuries is about 3 percent of global GDP.

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact James Rush at [email protected], or call +44 (0)7808 791265.