Global Road Safety

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Roads are shared by cars, buses, trucks, motorcycles, mopeds, pedestrians, animals, taxis, and other travelers throughout the world. 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 1.35 million deaths and up to 50 million injuries.1 Fatal and nonfatal crash injuries are estimated to cost the world economy approximately $1.8 trillion (in 2010 USD) from 2015–2030.2

Road traffic crashes are also the world’s leading cause of death for children and young adults 5–29 years of age.1

Know the risks and take steps to protect your health and safety whether you are on the road at home or abroad.

Tips for Road Safety at Home and Abroad3

  • Always use a seat belt on every trip, no matter how short and no matter if you are in the front seat or the back seat of a vehicle.
  • Make sure children are always properly buckled in the back seat in a car seat, booster seat, or seat belt that is appropriate for their age, height, and weight.
  • Always wear a helmet when driving or riding on motorcycles, motorbikes, or bicycles.
  • Do not drive while impaired by alcohol and/or any other substance that can impair your ability to drive—including marijuana, other illicit drugs, prescription medications, or over-the-counter medications. Also, do not ride with a driver who is impaired by alcohol and/or any substances.
  • Obey speed limits. Speeding is a leading risk factor for crashes, and high speeds increase the likelihood of severe injury or death when a crash occurs.
  • 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. Cross streets at crosswalks or intersections.
  • Ride only in marked/official taxis or ride share vehicles. Try to ride in taxis or ride share vehicles that have seat belts available in all seating positions.
  • Avoid riding in overcrowded, overweight, or top-heavy buses or minivans.
  • Access more information about road safety, overall safety, and security in every country of the world by visiting the country information page on the U.S. Department of State website. Also, review the CDC Yellow Book: Health Information for International Travelers chapters about Injury & Trauma and Road & Traffic Safety when traveling abroad.
  • Review in-depth profiles about road traffic safety by country in the World Health Organization’s Global Status Reports on Road Safety.

Current Global Road Safety Efforts

The 3rd Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety, held in Sweden in February 2020, produced the Stockholm Declaration. This statement acknowledges that substantial progress was made to improve road safety during the first Decade of Action for Road Safety (2011–2020). It mentions some key achievements, such as enhanced global coordination on road safety, greater engagement with non-governmental entities, production and dissemination of road traffic injury prevention resources, and increased global commitment to focusing on and providing resources for road safety.

However, the statement also recognizes that all countries still face formidable road safety challenges. It describes lessons learned from the first Decade of Action, including the need to promote an integrated approach to road safety, the importance of identifying and implementing long-term and sustainable road safety solutions, and the need for continued emphasis on collaboration across sectors.

The statement also reaffirms commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)—especially road safety-related targets 3.6 and 11.2.

  • SDG Target 3.6 called for a 50% reduction in road traffic crash deaths and injuries by 2020.
  • SDG Target 11.2 calls for safe, sustainable, and accessible transportation systems for everyone, with an emphasis on people in vulnerable situations, women, children, older adults, and people with disabilities.

In addition, the Stockholm Declaration emphasizes the protection of vulnerable road users (such as pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists), the importance of adopting and enforcing evidence-based policies to reduce transportation risk behaviors, the critical role of advanced vehicle safety technologies, the importance of shifting to cleaner and healthier modes of transportation, and our shared responsibility to reduce road traffic deaths and injuries.

A high-level meeting of the United Nations General Assembly on global road safety will be held in 2022 to unite stakeholders, assess road safety progress, address gaps and challenges, and plan for future action to reduce road traffic deaths and injuries worldwide.

CDC Works to Improve Global Road Safety

CDC recognizes the new United Nations (UN) Decade of Action for Road Safety (2021–2030) and its priorities. This second Decade of Action was established by the UN General Assembly resolution 74/299 “Improving global road safety” and adopted in August 2020. The new Decade of Action re-establishes the goal of reducing road traffic deaths and injuries across the world by 50% from 2021–2030.

It also reiterates a set of 12 voluntary global road safety performance targets developed and finalized by World Health Organization (WHO) Member States in 2016–2017 in response to World Health Assembly resolution 69.7. The targets are intended to help countries accelerate road traffic injury reduction and road safety improvements, as well as assess their road safety progress.

A new Global Plan of Action aligning with the Stockholm Declaration, UN General Assembly resolution 74/299 “Improving global road safety,” and the new Decade of Action was released in 2021. The Global Plan of Action provides actionable steps based on effective interventions to work towards a 50% reduction of road traffic deaths and injuries by 2030. The continued use of the 12 voluntary global road safety performance targets to monitor and report on road safety progress is encouraged.

CDC has also provided technical and funding support for WHO reports, manuals, documents, and technical packages. For example, Save LIVES: A Road Safety Technical Package (2017) is an evidence-based inventory of priority interventions that can help road safety professionals, governments, and other decision-makers reduce road traffic injuries and achieve the road safety-related Sustainable Development Goal targets (3.6 and 11.2). It focuses on:

  • Speed management
  • Leadership on road safety
  • Infrastructure design and improvement
  • Vehicle safety standards
  • Enforcement of traffic laws
  • Post-crash Survival

The Safe System Approach

The Safe System approach is a holistic approach to road safety that works to protect all road users, acknowledges that humans make mistakes, and accounts for human vulnerability. It emphasizes that road systems should be built in a way to reduce human error and protect humans from death and severe injury when they make mistakes.4,5 The Safe System approach also reiterates that road safety is a shared responsibility among all stakeholders and that proactive approaches can be taken to improve road safety.

The core elements of the Safe System approach include safe road users, safe vehicles, safe speeds, safe roads, and post-crash care. A few examples of implementing Safe System principles include creating separate spaces for cars and pedestrians, reducing speeds, engineering roads to facilitate safe driving, and safer vehicles that incorporate technology to reduce the occurrence and severity of crashes.

Some countries such as Australia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, and Sweden have embraced and implemented the Safe System approach for many years and have had success in reducing road traffic deaths and injuries.5

Vision Zero and U.S. Road to Zero Efforts

In 1997, an idea from Sweden opened the door to a new way of thinking: Vision Zero. This idea that no one should die or suffer serious injury in road traffic crashes has gained considerable traction across the world and has evolved into a highly successful road safety strategy. This vision supports the Safe System approach to road safety. In the United States, many cities, counties, and communities have accepted the challenge of zero road traffic deaths and major reductions in injuries. The Collaborative Sciences Center for Road Safety has multiple Vision Zero resources available, including a U.S. Vision Zero Plan Library and other related resources.

In 2016, the Road to Zero (RTZ) Coalition was launched to support and enhance Vision Zero efforts in the United States. The coalition’s primary goal is to end road traffic fatalities in the United States by 2050. CDC actively participates in the coalition and serves on the steering group.

The RTZ Coalition outlines three primary focus areas:

  • Doubling down on what works through proven, evidence-based strategies
  • Advancing life-saving technology in vehicles and infrastructure
  • Prioritizing safety by adopting a Safe System approach and creating a positive safety culture

Toward Zero Deaths (TZD) also affirms that even one death on our nation’s roads is too many. TZD has six areas of emphasis:

  • Safer drivers and passengers
  • Safer vulnerable users (e.g., pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists)
  • Safer vehicles
  • Safer infrastructure
  • Enhanced emergency medical services
  • Improved safety management

A combination of strategies and the collaboration of groups from many different sectors, such as public health organizations, law enforcement agencies, and emergency medical services, are necessary to achieve the TZD vision.

In addition, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (also known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act) passed in November 2021 authorizes major investments and initiatives to improve road safety and other components of the U.S. transportation sector. The National Roadway Safety Strategy issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation in early 2022 establishes a comprehensive plan to improve road safety in the United States and embraces widespread adoption of the Safe System approach at the national level.

Featured Publications & Resources

CDC Feature Article: Global Road Safety

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.

CDC Feature Publication: Motor Vehicle Crash Deaths

Yellman MA, Sauber-Schatz EK. Motor Vehicle Crash Deaths — United States and 28 Other High-Income Countries, 2015 and 2019. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2022;71:837–843. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm7126a1.

WHO Global Status Report on Road Safety

Each year, 1.35 million people die on the world’s roads. Road traffic injuries are the leading cause of death among children and young adults aged 5–29 years.

Traffic Conflict Technique Toolkit: A Guide to Quickly Evaluate Road Safety Interventions
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The Traffic Conflict Technique (TCT) Toolkit is a comprehensive guide that describes five different methods to evaluate the impact of a road safety intervention by collecting and analyzing traffic conflict data. A traffic conflict occurs when two or more road users are at risk of colliding if their movements do not change. The TCT Toolkit focuses on pedestrian-vehicle traffic conflicts in and around school zones in low- and middle-income countries. Download the TCT Toolkit to learn more about how to improve road safety in school zones.

References

  1. World Health Organization (WHO). Global Status Report on Road Safety 2018. WHO; 2018.
  2. Chen S, Kuhn M, Prettner K, Bloom DE. The global macroeconomic burden of road injuries: estimates and projections for 166 countriesLancet Planet Health. 2019;3(9):e390–398.
  3. Sauber-Schatz EK, Parker EM, Sleet DA, Ballesteros MF. CDC Health Information for International Travel (Yellow Book 2020). Chapter 8 – Travel by Air, Land & Sea – Road & Traffic Safety. 2020 Edition. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
  4. Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE). Technical Resources – Safe System.
  5. Safe System Consortium Report – Recommendations of the Safe System Consortium. Center for Injury Research and Policy at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE), and FIA Foundation; 2021.