About the Author: Nancy Carter-Foster serves as Senior Advisor in the Bureau of Oceans, Environment and Science.
Driving may seem like a commonplace activity to many Americans, but it is still a dangerous task at home and in much of the world. Nearly 1.3 million people die and 20-50 million more worldwide are injured in road crashes every year. That translates to 3,500 people dying and 137,000 more being seriously injured or disabled every day. More than half of those killed in traffic crashes are people in the prime of their lives, between the ages of 15-44. It is also the second leading cause of death for children between the ages of 5-15. Road crashes are the leading non-natural cause of death for Americans living, working and traveling abroad.
In November, this critical issue will be addressed in a summit to be hosted by the Russian Federation in Moscow, under UN auspices, to call attention to the far-reaching impact of motor vehicle injuries and fatalities from unsafe driving conditions and roads in both the developed and developing world. This very first Ministerial Summit on Global Road Safety will establish a public, international dialogue about this issue.
Low and middle-income countries carry a disproportionate burden, accounting for 90 percent of the total road fatalities, which is not only costly in human life, but also in economic development and growth. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates the annual cost of road traffic crashes in these countries exceeds $100 billion, which amounts to nearly double the total combined development assistance these countries receive every year from bilateral and multilateral donors. Road safety is also a key component in attracting – or discouraging – foreign investment and tourism. As developing countries continue to build infrastructure and add motorized vehicles to the roads at a rate of up to 18 percent per year, it is critical to address the traffic safety issue now. According to the WHO, this growing problem could become the third leading cause of global burden of disease by 2020, if steps are not taken to stem the tide.
There is a great deal of effort and international collaboration on road safety. Improving road safety does not happen by “accident,” but rather through the efforts of many sectors of society, both governmental and non-governmental, to take action and to raise awareness for prevention efforts. The summit host, the Russian Federation, has implemented a special-purpose federal program to reduce road fatalities by 25 percent by 2012. In the last 40 years, the United States has reduced crash rates by more than 50 percent — an encouraging figure that demonstrates that this problem is not insurmountable when addressed appropriately.
I know that deliberate and determined efforts of society are the only way we can drastically improve road safety. This is why it is so important to address the problem as a global community. We are looking forward to the summit and will keep you posted with updates on its progress.