Call for road deaths to be recognized as child health emergency

A street in Indonesia. Photo by: Aaron Minnick / World Resources Institute / CC BY-NC-SA

NEW DELHI — Advocates are calling for the staggering number of road deaths worldwide to be recognized as a child health emergency, after a World Health Organization report showed that road traffic injuries are now the leading killer of people aged between 5-29.

“It is now irrefutable that dangerous streets pose the greatest risk to the mortality of young people. More than a quarter of a million children and adolescents die every year.”

—  Avi Silverman, deputy director, FIA Foundation

Around 1.35 million people died on the world’s roads in 2016, the highest number on record according to the report, despite Sustainable Development Goal 3.6 calling for a 50 percent reduction in the number of road traffic deaths by 2020.

Pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists in developing countries are disproportionately affected. The risk of road deaths is three times higher in low-income countries than in high-income countries, and no low-income country saw an improvement in road safety between 2013-2016, it says. The risk is highest in Africa and Southeast Asia.

The report, published last week, called for “a shift in the current child health agenda, which has largely neglected road safety” — a point echoed by advocates at the Partners’ Forum on maternal, newborn and child health in New Delhi, India, this week.

“The new data ... has thrown into sharp relief the fact that road crashes are the biggest killer of children over 5 years old,” said Avi Silverman, deputy director at the FIA Foundation, a charity focused on clean and safe mobility. “It is now irrefutable that dangerous streets pose the greatest risk to the mortality of young people. More than a quarter of a million children and adolescents die every year … For every child death who dies, another suffers a life-changing disability, and for every disability, there are several serious injuries,” he said.

“A child death from road traffic injury is as tragic and unnecessary as a child death from a disease like polio ... We know both are prevented through simple, cost-effective solutions. The difference is that one is a man-made epidemic, which is marginalized and accepted by communities, governments, and the global advocacy agenda,” Silverman added.

The report highlighted key measures that can be taken to improve road safety, including creating safer infrastructure, such as dedicated sidewalks, cycle lanes, and crossings; and better enforcement of legislation on speeding, drunk driving, and seat belt use.

“We need swift, coordinated, and comprehensively-funded multinational action,” argued Silverman. “While specific targets to reduce road deaths were included in the SDGs, a major issue is that it requires interconnected policy engagement, which tends to be siloed. This is an issue that requires collaboration to join up health, transport, urban planning, and education to name a few.”

Michael Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies, which funded the study, said in a statement: “Road safety is an issue that does not receive anywhere near the attention it deserves — and it really is one of our great opportunities to save lives around the world. We know which interventions work. Strong policies and enforcement, smart road design, and powerful public awareness campaigns can save millions of lives over the coming decades.”

About the author

  • Jessica Abrahams

    Jessica Abrahams is Editor of Devex Pro. Based in London, she helps to oversee news, features, data analysis, events, and newsletters for Devex subscribers. She previously served as Deputy News Editor and as an Associate Editor, with a particular focus on Europe. Before joining Devex, she worked as a writer, researcher, and editor for Prospect magazine, The Telegraph, and Bloomberg News, among other outlets. She holds graduate degrees in journalism from City University London and in international relations from Institut Barcelona d’Estudis Internacionals.