Road Crashes a Growing Global Concern
Brandon Sun “Small World” Column, Monday, May 30 / 22
Like war, disease and other global scourges, death and injury due to road crashes is a problem that won’t go away! Although many of us may have been directly or indirectly affected by these on-going tragedies, and may see clearly how they can be avoided or reduced, they just keep on happening. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the “Decade of Action for Road Safely”, taking place 2011 to 2020, and recently reported on the state of that issue. The United Nations General Assembly wants to reduce traffic accidents by 50% by 2030.
WHO reports that about 1.3 million people lose their lives annually in crashes, more than 90% of them in middle and low income countries, even though these countries only have 60% of the global vehicle total. Another 20 to 50 million people are injured, although this is hard to track due to poor statistical counts. Most affected by these tragic statistics are young males around the world, 5 to 29 years of age, who amount to 73% of those killed. More than half of those killed or injured are pedestrians, cyclists or motorcyclists, as being in a car makes you somewhat safer.
In the United States in 2021, 42,915 people were killed in motor vehicle accidents, a 10.5% increase. Canadian statistics for 2020, list 1998 deaths and overall, year by year, levels have stayed stable. The economic cost, aside from the human one, is a loss of 3% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the US and 1% in Canada. This is made up of the impact of disability created by injuries, the loss of productivity when people can’t work, the cost of medical treatment, and so on.
So, what can be done? The UN is promoting the “Safe System Approach”, that is looking at the problem holistically, from the driver to the pedestrian, to the roadway, to the laws and regulations. Globally, they are trying to have road signs provided or improved, reduce or regulate speeds, build or improve roadways, improve safety and road-worthiness of vehicles, and training and fitness of road and vehicle users.
Anyone who has traveled in a poor or middle income country knows that all of these must be dealt with, and anyone on our own streets and highways must admit that we are also needing better infrastructure and also the greater taking of responsibility by drivers. Two East African countries that Brandon’s Marquis Project has projects in, Tanzania and Uganda, have had, in 2020, 18,054 and 13,012 traffic deaths respectively, in both cases 6% of overall deaths that year, ranking them tenth and sixth respectively in the global traffic death list. By contracts, Canada’s traffic deaths affect less than 1% of our population and we stand 157th, a much safer country due to our greater resources to deal with the issue.
All of us have exasperating anecdotes that we can share about that guy who speeds down our road, or the people who shave, put on make-up, eat or read while commuting to work, the person who drives a car that has no turn signals (as if they would use them anyway!), and so on. Here are the highlights of how the UN Safe System would handle what can be an emotional subject. First of all, speed kills, so people have to slow down. The faster a vehicle is moving when involved in a crash, the far greater the chance of severe injury or death.
Next, safety equipment will save your life. Helmets for motorcycle and bicycle users, and seat belts in cars, and child restraints in all moving conveyances must be used to reduce bad outcomes. Then, alcohol and drugs are toxic when mixed with driving. Distracted driving – such as texting and other activities listed above - increases your chance of a crash by 400%.
How infrastructure is set up is a determining factor, so safer intersections, bike lanes in urban environments, proper signage, avoidance of blind spots and surface breaks, all make a big difference. Creation and enforcement of regulations is important. If there are no laws governing our vehicle road-worthiness or use, or if these are not enforced, then no one will follow them. For those who don’t follow regulations like speed limits or car safety out of a sense of community responsibility, a hefty fine might do the trick. And finally, timely rescue is important. In the event of a crash, how quickly first responders arrive and how well they deal with the situation will make a huge different in outcome.
In a world facing so many concerns, our roadway safety might seem trivial, but it affects families, workplaces and communities daily.
Zack Gross is Board Chair of The Marquis Project, a Brandon-based international development organization, and co-author of the new book The Fair Trade Handbook: Building a Better World, Together.
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