Road Traffic Injuries and Deaths—A Global Problem

Image of the Los Angeles freeway at rush hour

Road traffic crashes are a leading cause of death in the United States for people aged 1–54 and the leading cause of non-natural death for healthy U.S. citizens residing or traveling abroad.13

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, vehicles are involved in crashes that are responsible for millions of deaths and injuries.

Whether you’re on the road at home or abroad, know the risks and take steps to protect your health and safety.

The Facts About Global Road Traffic Injuries and Deaths
  • Each year, 1.35 million people are killed on roadways around the world.4
  • Every 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 killed are pedestrians, motorcyclists, and cyclists.4
  • 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.4
Low- and Middle-Income Countries Are Most Affected
  • 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.4
  • The road traffic crash death rate is over three times higher in low-income countries than in high-income countries.4
  • There were no reductions in the number of road traffic deaths in any low-income country from 2013 to 2016.4
  • 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.5,6

WHO International logo for "Save Lives"

Save LIVESexternal icon is a technical package that includes 6 effective strategies for reducing the impact of road traffic crashes.

Image of traffic in Mandalay at sunset

November 17th is World Remembrance Day for Road Traffic Victimsexternal icon, a time to remember the millions of people killed and injured in road crashes.

Steps for Road 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 road2:

  • 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 phone to text, email, or access social media 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.

References
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (NCIPC). Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS). [cited 2019 November 4]. Available from URL: http://www.cdc.gov/injury/wisqars
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). CDC Health Information for International Travel (Yellow Book 2020). Chapter 8 – Travel by Air, Land & Sea – Road & Traffic Safety. 2020 Edition. [cited 2019 November 4]. Available from URL: https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2020/travel-by-air-land-sea/road-and-traffic-safety
  3. U.S. Department of State — Bureau of Consular Affairs. U.S. Citizen Deaths Overseas. [cited 2019 November 4]. Available from URL: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel/while-abroad/death-abroad1/death-statistics.htmlexternal icon
  4. World Health Organization (WHO). Global Status Report on Road Safety 2018. December 2018. [cited 2019 April 8]. Available from URL: https://www.who.int/violence_injury_prevention/road_safety_status/2018/en/external icon
  5. Jacobs G, Aeron-Thomas A, Astrop A. Estimating Global Road Fatalities. Crowthorne, United Kingdom: Transport Research Laboratory; 2000. (TLR Report 445). [cited 2019 November 4]. Available from URL: http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.174.5207&rep=rep1&type=pdfexternal icon
  6. Peden M, Scurfield R, Sleet D, Mohan D, Hyder AA, Jarawan E, et al. World report on road traffic injury prevention. Geneva: World Health Organization (WHO). 2004. [cited 2019 November 4]. Available from URL: https://www.who.int/violence_injury_prevention/publications/road_traffic/world_report/en/external icon