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Findings of new WHO study: 70% of deaths on European roads occur in poorer countries and 40% are among pedestrians, motorcyclists and cyclists


19 Nov 2009



Copenhagen and Moscow, 19 November 2009 Two out of three road traffic deaths are in low- and middle-income countries, according to a new study from the WHO Regional Office for Europe published today. Further, the first comprehensive assessment of road safety in the WHO European Region finds that, of 120 000 people who die in road traffic crashes every year, almost 50 000 are pedestrians, motorcyclists and cyclists. The "European status report on road safety" (1) offers the first thorough analysis of the road safety situation in 49 of 53 European countries, accounting for 99% of the Region’s population. Complementing the "Global status report on road safety" (2), the study shows that many European countries, especially in the western part of Europe, have applied effective intersectoral measures and reduced the number of lives lost over time. Yet achievements are uneven across the Region. “Whereas only 26% of the Region’s vehicles are in low- and middle-income countries, their death rate is double that of high-income countries. This situation is even less acceptable, now we have compelling evidence that road traffic injuries can be prevented. Countries need to make a stronger effort to make roads safer for their citizens, and international collaboration can help address this challenge,” says Dr Nata Menabde, Deputy Regional Director, WHO Regional Office for Europe. “Tackling road safety is investing in a healthier and more equitable future. By taking stock of what has already been done, this new publication aims to step up efforts and action in the whole Region.” Road traffic crashes waste up to 3% of countries’ gross domestic product The report finds that up to 3% of a country’s gross domestic product is lost every year, through health care costs, premature loss of life and time off work. This is especially related to the fact that many of the victims are young and that 2.4 million non-fatal injuries are a major cause of disability every year. Yet the amount that countries spend on safety is far less than the economic loss incurred by road crashes. Other highlights of the report include the following. A third of countries do not have effective speed control in urban areas. One in seven countries does not set adequate blood alcohol concentration limits as a measure to reduce drink–driving. There is no law for compulsory rear-seat belts in 10% of countries and under a third of countries report seat-belt wearing rates over 90%. One in seven countries has no law for child car restraints. A quarter of countries do not have any multisectoral strategy to address road traffic injuries. Pedestrians, motorcyclists and cyclists are most at risk The needs of vulnerable road users have been ignored for too long, and this is reflected in the statistic that 40% of victims are pedestrians, motorcyclists and cyclists. Measures such as building raised crossings, pavements, and cycle lanes; reducing drink–driving and excessive speed; and increasing the use of helmets and child car restraints could save tens of thousands of lives every year. The report finds that only a third of European countries assess their laws as adequate; and even well designed legislation has no effect if it is not properly enforced. For example, only 19% of countries rate their enforcement of speed limits as adequate; for enforcement of drink–driving laws the rating is 34%. Greater political commitment to addressing the needs of all road users is needed, with well publicized enforcement campaigns to raise people’s perceived certainty of being apprehended and severely punished for violations. Investments in public transport as well as safer roads that encourage walking and cycling are critical to creating the incentive for people to choose healthy transport modes. The report shows that 41% of countries have national policies that promote walking and/or cycling, and 63% for public transport, indicating that this remains an area where more progress could be made. Sustainable transport policies are key to public health and environment goals More countries could reap the benefits of investing in sustainable transport and making roads safer. Policies that encourage public transport use, walking and cycling provide multiple health gains: reducing injuries, decreasing respiratory illness, preventing noncommunicable disease through physical activity and mitigating the negative effects of climate change. European countries can benefit from a unique instrument to integrate road safety with environment and health concerns. The Transport, Health and Environment Pan-European Programme (THE PEP), jointly managed by the WHO Regional Office for Europe and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, is a platform to help countries pursue sustainable and healthy transport. THE PEP is one of the main achievements of the European environment and health process, which will be marked by the next ministerial conference on environment and health in Parma, Italy, on 10–12 March 2010. For more information contact: TECHNICAL INFORMATION: Dr Dinesh Sethi Technical Officer, Violence and Injury Prevention WHO Regional Office for Europe Via Francesco Crispi 10, I-00187 Rome, Italy Tel.: +39 06 4877526 Fax: +39 06 4877599 E-mail: PRESS INFORMATION: Ms Cristiana Salvi Technical Officer, Partnership and Communication WHO Regional Office for Europe Via Francesco Crispi 10, I-00187 Rome, Italy Tel.: +39 06 4877543;. mobile: +39 348 0192305 Fax: +39 06 4877599 E-mail: