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 1–54,1 and they are the leading cause of nonnatural death for U.S. citizens residing or traveling abroad.23

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.

Global Road Traffic Crash Deaths, Injuries, and Costs
  • Each year, 1.35 million people are killed on roadways around the world.4
  • Every day, almost 3,700 people are killed globally in crashes involving cars, buses, motorcycles, bicycles, trucks, or pedestrians. More than half of those killed are pedestrians, motorcyclists, or cyclists.4
  • Crash 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 crashes than from HIV/AIDS.4
  • It is estimated that fatal and nonfatal crash injuries will cost the world economy approximately $1.8 trillion dollarsexternal icon (in 2010 USD) from 2015–2030.5 That’s equivalent to a yearly tax of 0.12% on global GDP (gross domestic product).5
Low- and Middle-Income Countries (LMICs) Are Most Affected
  • The 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 crash deaths in any low-income country from 2013 to 2016.4
  • LMICs only account for 60 percent of the world’s registered vehicles but more than 90 percent of the world’s crash deaths.4
  • Crash injuries place a major economic burden on LMICs.6,7 It is estimated that LMICs will experience approximately $834 billion dollars (in 2010 USD) in economic losses from 2015–2030 due to fatal and nonfatal crash injuries.5
WHO International logo for "Save Lives"

Save LIVESexternal icon is a technical package that includes 6 effective strategies and 22 interventions for reducing the impact of road traffic crashes.

Image of traffic in Mandalay at sunset

World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victimsexternal icon is held annually on the third Sunday in November to honor and remember the millions of people killed and injured in road crashes every year.

TCT Toolkit
Screenshot of the cover of the Traffic Conflict Technique Toolkit brochure

The Traffic Conflict Technique (TCT) Toolkit pdf icon[PDF – 8.95 MB]external icon is a comprehensive guide that describes five methods that can be used to evaluate the impact of road safety interventions by collecting and analyzing traffic conflict data. It focuses on protecting pedestrians in school zones in low- and middle-income countries, but it can be used in many settings.

Steps for Road Safety at Home and Abroad

Motor vehicle crashes are a public health concern both in the United States and abroad. 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 2020 October 28]. 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 2020 October 28]. 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 2020 October 28]. 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 2020 October 28]. Available from URL: https://www.who.int/violence_injury_prevention/road_safety_status/2018/en/external icon
  5. Chen S, Kuhn M, Prettner K, Bloom DE. The global macroeconomic burden of road injuries: estimates and projections for 166 countriesexternal icon. The Lancet Planetary Health. 2019 Sep 1;3(9):e390–398.
  6. Jacobs G, Aeron-Thomas A, Astrop A. Estimating Global Road Fatalities. Crowthorne, United Kingdom: Transport Research Laboratory; 2000. (TLR Report 445). [cited 2020 October 28]. Available from URL: http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.174.5207&rep=rep1&type=pdfexternal icon
  7. World Health Organization (WHO). Peden M, Scurfield R, Sleet D, Mohan D, Hyder AA, Jarawan E, Mathers C. World report on road traffic injury prevention. 2004. [cited 2020 October 28]. Available from URL: https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/world-report-on-road-traffic-injury-preventionexternal icon