Statement on Road Safety for Children
Written by former CEO & President, Kate Carr.
A growing epidemic of traffic injuries is devastating the next generation of children around the globe. More than 500 children are killed every day as a result of road traffic collisions, and tens of thousands are injured, often suffering lifelong disabilities. Children living in poorer nations are most at risk. In fact, more than 90 percent of child road deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries.
Worse still, unless we take action now, the global toll of traffic injuries will explode, placing millions of children at risk. The number of vehicles on the road is expected to double worldwide by 2030. Moreover, by 2025, the world's population is expected to reach 8 billion, and 58 percent of the world's population will live in urban areas. This means that more and more children will be in harm's way. By 2030, road traffic injuries among both children and adults is expected to surpass HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis as a cause of death worldwide.
We must recognize that road safety for children is an important maternal and child health issue. While we've made impressive strides to reduce the number of children dying from communicable diseases through improved treatments and greater availability, we now see that children who are increasingly safe from communicable diseases are threatened by the prospect of death or injury on the roads. Not only are children at high risk in vehicles, on bicycles, and on motorcycles, they are very vulnerable as pedestrians and are often killed or injured in the simple act of walking to school.
Road traffic crashes are also undermining the world economy and keeping millions of families with children in poverty. The economic consequences of road insecurity have been estimated between 1 and 3 percent of the respective gross national product of all countries, reaching a total over $500 billion. This keeps as many as 70 million people in poverty and substantially increases costs for businesses throughout the world.
Yet global road safety is not getting the priority it deserves. While 88 countries experienced a decrease in the number of road traffic deaths from 2007-2010, 87 others experienced an increase. Only 7 percent of the world's population is covered by laws that address all five key risk factors (speed, drinking and driving, helmets, seat belts and child restraints).
And children have been left out of most safety efforts. Many nations lack laws requiring children to wear helmets while riding on motorcycles or bicycles, and only 30 percent of low-income countries have laws requiring that young children be appropriately restrained in cars. Children have special needs when it comes to safety, particularly regarding car restraints and helmets, which must be carefully tailored to their size as they grow. The safety of school zones and school buses are often overlooked in many communities or even entire nations. And data collection often does not take into account the special circumstances of children, making it harder to identify the proper responses to this growing epidemic. These shortcomings exist despite the fact that there is a proven record of success in achieving major advances in road safety for children. Within the U.S., for example, there has been a decrease of 54 percent in the number of passenger vehicle deaths among children since 1975.
It is unalterably true that children are our future. We cannot afford to let their safety be an afterthought. By placing a priority on global road safety for children, we not only safeguard our own future, but we also build stronger political support for improvements that benefit us all.
The UN Decade of Action for Road Safety is a worldwide effort to save five million lives on the roads between 2011 and 2020. The Decade of Action, led by the World Health Organization, has brought together an important coalition of organizations devoted to taking action on road safety focused around five pillars: building road safety management capacity; improving the safety of road infrastructure and broader transport networks; further developing the crashworthiness performance and safety of vehicles; changing the behavior of road users; and improving post-crash care. In recognition of the needs of children, the focus of the Third United Nations Global Road Safety Week from May 4-10, 2015, will be on children and road safety. At the same time, efforts are underway to include a specific target for reducing road traffic deaths and injuries in the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals, soon to be adopted by the United Nations.
Safe Kids Worldwide is a global network of injury prevention organizations committed to reducing the number of children killed and seriously injured as a result of preventable injuries, including road traffic crashes. As a strong supporter of the Decade of Action and the inclusion of road safety targets in the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals, Safe Kids is working to capitalize on these opportunities to make meaningful progress that helps us reverse rising death and injury rates.
We have the capacity to build an effective movement in support of swift action to improve road safety for children. Nearly everyone in the world is impacted by the road safety crisis. We all use some form of transport, whether it is walking, a bicycle, a motorcycle, or a motor vehicle. There is an enormous constituency that can be cultivated to demand action, particularly when we can jointly use the urgent rallying cry of saving children's lives.
We have knowledge and expertise on what works to prevent children from being killed or injured in traffic collisions. We've seen that a holistic approach that looks at the entire transport system and takes human error and vulnerability into account is most likely to succeed. And we also understand that all stakeholders must be involved in preventing road crashes, including international organizations, governments, foundations, automakers and others in the private sector, non-governmental organizations, health care workers, policymakers, law enforcement, researchers, entrepreneurs, educators, planners, engineers, the media and families.
If we adopt the following key initiatives as part of a "safe systems" approach that treats road safety holistically, we can expect far fewer deaths and injuries on and around our roads among both adults and children:
- Road safety management is prioritized, roads are engineered to accommodate errors, and speed is reduced to safe levels;
- Vehicles increasingly incorporate advanced safety features as standard equipment;
- A full complement of safety laws, including laws that protect children, are in place and are vigorously enforced;
- Education and awareness programs are evidence-based and assist road users in adopting proven methods of lowering risk; and
- Safety investments, including post-crash care, achieve the best cost/benefit ratio for the entire populace.
If such measures are fully adopted and have comprehensive support and energy behind them, we begin to have the capacity to eliminate serious injuries and deaths from road crashes in the future.
We know that a full-fledged health epidemic is under way for adults and our children. We know that, without action, it will accelerate rapidly, claiming millions of lives. And we know the key steps that will make a meaningful difference in outcomes. Now it is up to us to create a high-impact movement that takes strong action. This report is part of a long-term effort, the Safe Roads | Safe Kids campaign, initiated by Safe Kids Worldwide to focus on improving road safety for children and achieving substantial reductions in childhood deaths and injuries resulting from traffic collisions. We call on all stakeholders to join with us to make progress on this urgent and deserving cause.