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Road safety saves lives and money


31 May 2011



WHO presents a new health economic assessment tool for transport on the launch in Europe of the Decade of Action for Road Safety


Road-traffic crashes kill over 350 Europeans every day, or over 120 000 per year. Almost half of them are pedestrians, motorcyclists and cyclists, and 6 out of 10 are aged 5–44 years. This unacceptable toll is particularly high in low- and middle-income countries.1 At the 2011 summit of the International Transport Forum (ITF) in Leipzig, Germany, WHO/Europe is launching the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011–2020 in the WHO European Region, along with the Global Plan for the Decade, which sets out how countries can save money, as well as lives.

WHO/Europe is also launching a new health economic assessment tool (HEAT) at the ITF summit, so that countries can measure the economic savings that can result from making cycling and walking safer and more popular. Increasingly emerging as a way to provide the necessary level of daily moderate physical activity, regular cycling and walking can reduce total mortality by 30%.


"Road crashes are taking away our youngest and most productive generation. Yet they are preventable," says Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe, "Sustainable transport policies help to create healthier and wealthier societies, and road safety is a vital part of this. European governments should increase investment in measures that make walking and cycling safer, and encourage effective public transport: this will reduce human and financial costs."

Policies for healthy transport have high economic benefits. They can not only reduce traffic crashes but also make walking and cycling safer, improve public transport, improve air quality through reduced pollution and increase physical fitness.

Countries spend far less on safety than their economies lose as a result of road crashes. Most of those suffering road-traffic injuries are young, and 2.4 million non-fatal injuries are a major cause of disability every year. Thus, road-traffic injuries account for the loss of up to 3% of a country's gross domestic product (GDP) every year, through health care costs, premature loss of life, disability and time off work. This loss is part of the costs of road transport to society; with pollution, congestion, landscape degradation and climate change, these costs make up about 8% of a country's GDP.

The HEAT for walking and cycling was developed in the framework of the Transport, Health and Environment Pan-European Programme (THE PEP) and with the European network for the promotion of health-enhancing physical activity (HEPA Europe). It is designed to help transport and urban planners estimate the economic savings from mortality reductions from regular cycling and walking, and is a basis for more informed investment in sustainable transport.

The HEAT for cycling has been pilot-tested in several countries within and outside the WHO European Region, including Austria, the Czech Republic, France, Sweden, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and the United States of America. As an example of its innovative performance, estimates for Austria indicate that current levels of cycling, a mode of transport accounting for 5% of the total and with an average trip length of 2 km, save 412 lives every year due to regular physical activity, amounting to €405 million. In Scotland, United Kingdom, the annual savings would amount to £1–2 billion if the cycling share rose to 13% from the current level (1%). The new HEAT for walking will expand the opportunities of including this universal mode of transport into the calculation of the benefits of active transport.

More countries could gain similar benefits by investing in active transport and safer roads. Measures such as building raised crossings, pedestrian walkways, pavements and safe bicycle lanes could save tens of thousands of lives and billions of euros every year by reducing deaths and injuries on the roads and improving health through enhanced physical activity.

Notes to editors

    * Officially proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in March 2010, the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011–2020 provides a framework in which countries and communities can increase action to save lives on the world's roads. It is developed by the United Nations Road Safety Collaboration (UNRSC), coordinated by WHO as per United Nations General Assembly mandate in 2004.


    * The Global Plan of the Decade of Action for Road Safety, launched on 11 May 2011, has five main pillars: investing in safer roads, building capacity for road-safety management, developing safer vehicles, encouraging safer road use and improving post-crash care.


    * ITF, part of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) family, is an intergovernmental organization with 52 member countries. It acts as a strategic think-tank for transport policy and organizes an annual summit of ministers. The goal is to help shape the transport policy agenda on a global level, and ensure that it contributes to economic growth, environmental protection, social inclusion and the preservation of human life and well-being.


    * THE PEP is a platform to strengthen the integration of environment and health issues into transport policies in European countries. Established in 2002, it is jointly managed by WHO/Europe and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE).


    * HEPA Europe is a European network of about 110 institutions in 30 countries that collaborates closely with WHO/Europe. It works for better health through physical activity among all people in the European Region, by strengthening and supporting efforts to increase participation and improve the conditions for healthy lifestyles.


    * The WHO European Region covers over 880 million people in 53 countries, stretching from the Arctic Ocean in the north to the Mediterranean Sea in the south, and from the Atlantic Ocean in the west to the Pacific Ocean in the east (


For more information, visit the web sites of WHO/Europe, the Decade of Action for Road Safety and ITF.
Road safety

    * European status report on road safety
      WHO/Europe, 2009

    * Decade of Action. World unites to halt death and injury on the road

    * Violence and injury prevention

Healthy transport

    * Health economic assessment tool (HEAT) for cycling

    * Transport, Health and Environment Pan-European Programme (THE PEP)

    * International Transport Forum

    * Transport and health

For more information, please contact:

Dr Dinesh Sethi
Technical Officer, Violence and Injury Prevention
WHO European Centre for Environment and Health, Rome Office
WHO Regional Office for Europe
Tel.: +39 06 4877526

Ms Cristiana Salvi
Technical Officer, Communications
WHO European Centre for Environment and Health, Rome Office
WHO Regional Office for Europe
Tel.: +39064877543, +393480192305 (mobile)


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