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CDC Activities: Global Road Safety

Photo: Commuters on a busy street

The No. 1 cause of death for healthy U.S. citizens who travel abroad is traffic crashes. They are among the 1.3 million people who die each year on the world’s roads.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s Injury Center provides technical assistance and training, tools, and support to increase awareness of the problem of road traffic injuries around the world. Goals of CDC’s work in this area include:

  • strengthening data and data systems and
  • collaborating with partners to plan, implement, evaluate, and disseminate effective prevention strategies, activities, and policies. 

The following are some recent activity highlights of CDC’s Injury Center in global road safety.

Road Traffic Injury Surveillance in Peru

CDC’s Injury Center works with the ministries of health in several countries in Latin America to implement injury surveillance systems. For example, in 2005, CDC’s Injury Center began providing technical assistance to help determine the best methodology for establishing a surveillance system dedicated to road traffic injuries in Peru. Peru developed and pilot tested a surveillance system in 2006. This system was then implemented in 23 of the country’s 24 states in 2007.

The surveillance system uses data from police departments, insurance companies, and hospitals to give public health officials a closer look at Peru’s problem of nonfatal road traffic injuries. These findings provide insight about road user demographics and vehicle types involved in crashes, as well as crash locations and methods of transportation to medical facilities. Since the implementation of this system in 2007, CDC scientists have assisted with surveillance system assessment and data analysis.

International Training in Road Safety

CDC’s Injury Center conducts training and workshops in road safety, both domestically and abroad. For example, CDC conducts training activities for delegations from other countries in cooperation with the U.S. Department of State, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and the National Academy of Sciences. In addition, CDC assists the State Department in servicing bilateral science and technology agreements in road safety for representatives from developing nations, most recently to a delegation from Vietnam. Also, CDC will be working with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to collaborate on a bilateral agreement with the Russian Federation to improve healthy lifestyles, including the prevention of road traffic injuries.

Collaboration with the United Nations

On March 2, 2010, the 64th session of the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution declaring 2011–2020 “the Decade of Global Road Safety”. This resolution encourages U.N. Member States to strengthen their commitment to road safety and fosters efforts in every nation to reduce traffic injuries, particularly in low- and middle-income countries.

Collaboration with the World Health Organization for Road Safety

CDC’s Injury Center is a United Nations/World Health Organization (WHO)-designated collaborating center on injury prevention and control. Under WHO guidance, CDC’s Injury Center helped to develop the “2009 Global Status Report on Road Safety.”

This report, for which CDC scientists served as the national data coordinators of U.S.-based data, is the first broad assessment of the road safety situation in 178 countries. The report shows that road traffic injuries remain an important public health problem, particularly for low-income and middle-income countries.

One highlight of the report’s findings is that the proportion of road fatalities that involve alcohol varied widely among countries. In the United States, approximately one third (32%) of all road fatalities are alcohol-related; this proportion was similar to that in Australia (30%), Canada (30%), and New Zealand (31%) but much higher than in many other countries. For example, the proportion in the United Kingdom is 17%, Germany is 12%, Sweden is 20%, Poland is 14%, and Japan is 8%.

On the basis of U.S. data from the year 2006, the following are other U.S.-specific findings from the report:

  • The United States has more than 250 million registered vehicles on the road.
  • In 2006, U.S. drivers and passengers of four-wheeled vehicles made up 72% of road fatalities, riders of two- or three-wheelers made up 11%, pedestrians made up 11%, and cyclists made up 2%; the remaining 4% of fatalities were among other types of road users.
  • Males accounted for 70% of the road fatalities in the United States, while females accounted for 30%.
  • The United States has no national drunk driving law. This power rests with individual states. All 50 states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation making the illegal blood alcohol concentration limit at 0.08 g/dL. However, half of other countries set the limit lower at 0.05 g/dL.
  • The United States has no national seat belt law. As in Australia and Canada, this power rests with the individual states and provinces. Overall, seat belt use in the United States is more than 80%, but use in each state varies widely from 64% to 98%.
  • The United States has no national motorcycle helmet law; this power also rests with the states. Overall, U.S. motorcycle helmet use is 58%; however, this use varies depending on the type of state law. In states with universal helmet laws (those pertaining to all riders), nearly 100% of riders use helmets; in states with partial helmet laws (typically pertaining to only young riders), about half of riders use helmets.

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