Road Traffic Injuries and Deaths—A Global Problem

Crowded international street

Learn tips to protect yourself and others from road traffic injuries when traveling abroad.

Road traffic crashes are a leading cause of death in the United States for people aged 1–54 and a leading cause of death for healthy U.S. citizens residing or traveling abroad. Whether you’re on the road at home or abroad, know the risks, get the facts, and take steps to protect your health and safety.

The Reality Around the World

Throughout the world, roads are shared by cars, buses, trucks, motorcycles, mopeds, pedestrians, animals, taxis, and other travelers. Travel made possible by motor vehicles supports economic and social development in many countries. Yet each year, these vehicles are involved in crashes that are responsible for millions of deaths and injuries.

Consider the following:

  • Each year, 1.35 million people are killed on roadways around the world.
  • Each day, almost 3,700 people are killed globally in road traffic crashes involving cars, buses, motorcycles, bicycles, trucks, or pedestrians. More than half of those people killed in crashes are pedestrians, motorcyclists, and cyclists.
  • Road traffic injuries are estimated to be the eighth leading cause of death globally for all age groups and the leading cause of death for children and young people 5–29 years of age. More people now die in road traffic crashes than from HIV/AIDS.

Low- and middle-income countries are most affected. Get the facts:

  • The road traffic crash death rate is three times higher in low-income countries than in high-income countries.
  • There were no reductions in the number of road traffic deaths in any low-income country from 2013 to 2016.
  • Low- and middle-income countries only account for 60 percent of the world’s registered vehicles but more than 90 percent of the world’s road traffic deaths.
  • Road traffic injuries place a huge economic burden on low- and middle-income countries. Each year, according to the latest available cost estimate (1998), road traffic injuries cost $518 billion USD worldwide and $65 billion USD in low- and middle-income countries, which exceeds the total amount that these countries receive in development assistance.
Photo: Commuters on a busy street.

Steps for Safety At Home and Abroad

Motor vehicle crashes are a public health concern both abroad and in the United States. These injuries and deaths are preventable. Whether you are a driver, passenger, cyclist, or pedestrian, take the following steps to stay safe on the road:

  • Always use a seat belt on every trip, no matter how short. Be sure to buckle up whether you are in the front seat or the back seat of the vehicle.
  • Make sure children are always properly buckled in a car seat, booster seat, or seat belt that is appropriate for their age, height, and weight, and ensure they are buckled in the back seat of the vehicle.
  • Always wear a helmet when driving or riding on motorcycles, motorbikes, or bicycles.
  • Do not drive while impaired by alcohol or drugs, and avoid riding with a driver who is impaired.
  • Obey speed limits.
  • Drive without distractions. For example, don’t use a cell phone or text while driving.
  • Be alert when crossing streets, especially in countries where motorists drive on the left side of the road.
  • Ride only in marked taxis, and try to ride in taxis that have seat belts.
  • Avoid riding in overcrowded, overweight, or top-heavy buses or minivans.
  • Check the Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT)external icon website for information about driving hazards and road safety risks by country.
  • Visit the country information pageexternal icon on the U.S. Department of State website for more information about road safety, overall safety, and security in every country of the world.

Global Road Safety and CDC

The CDC Injury Center collaborates with global partners to reduce road traffic injuries in low- and middle-income countries, where the burden of road traffic injuries is the highest, and provides technical assistance to:

  • Build capacity for road traffic injury data analysis.
  • Evaluate surveillance systems and road safety programs.
  • Use data for program planning.
  • Implement integrated road traffic injury surveillance systems.

CDC supports the UN Decade of Action for Road Safetyexternal icon and subscribes to the Global Plan for the Decade of Action for Road Safety (2011–2020)external icon, developed by the UN Road Safety Collaboration (UNRSC) and the World Health Organization (WHO). The plan encourages countries to implement activities according to the following five pillars:

  1.  Building road safety management capacity.
  2.  Improving the safety of road infrastructure and broader transport networks.
  3.  Further developing vehicle safety.
  4.  Enhancing safe behavior of road users.
  5.  Improving post-crash response and care.

World Health Assembly Resolution 69.7pdf iconexternal icon (adopted May 2016) called for WHO Member States to develop a set of 12 voluntary global road safety performance targetspdf iconexternal icon to accelerate the reduction of road traffic injuries and the improvement of road safety. The targets were finalized and adopted on November 21, 2017external icon and can help countries assess their progress towards accomplishing activities within each of the five pillars.

CDC has also provided technical and funding support for WHO reports, manuals, documents, and technical packages. The most recent document, entitled Save LIVES – a Road Safety Technical Packageexternal icon (2017), is an evidence-based inventory of priority interventions that can help road safety professionals, governments, and other decision-makers to reduce road traffic injuries and achieve the road safety-related Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) targets (3.6external icon and 11.2external icon). It focuses on Speed management, Leadership, Infrastructure design and improvement, Vehicle safety standards, Enforcement of traffic laws, and post-crash Survival.

Safety 2018

The 13th World Conference on Injury Prevention and Safety Promotion, held in November 2018, produced The Bangkok Statement. This statement calls for stronger and better-coordinated actions by governments and by society to prevent injuries and violence and to minimize their impact. They emphasize greater leadership, strengthening policies/legislation, promoting positive societal norms, scaling up effective injury prevention interventions, and improving monitoring and information systems.

The statement also recognizes that the end of the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011–2020 is approaching quickly. Achieving the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) road safety targets 3.6external icon and 11.2external icon will not be possible without intensified efforts to improve global road safety. This would require effective multi-sectoral coordination and the adoption and implementation of comprehensive and effective road traffic injury prevention interventions.

More Information

Learn more about CDC’s work in motor vehicle safety and about other sources of information for global road safety:

Page last reviewed: April 24, 2019