By Dr. Etienne Krug. Director of the WHO Department of Social Determinants of Health.

Around the world each year, approximately 1.35 million people lose their lives in road traffic crashes and as many as 50 million others are injured. In terms of deaths, that’s 3,700 lives lost every day, and one death every 24 seconds. Road traffic injuries are now the eighth leading cause of death for people of all age groups, and the leading cause of death for children and young people aged 5-29 years. The burden is disproportionately borne by pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists, who comprise 54% of all road traffic deaths. In other words, they are people who are not traveling in cars; most would not be able to afford one.

Despite these figures, there are some signs of progress. While the absolute number of road traffic fatalities has continued to rise, the rates of death relative to the world’s population are actually stabilizing, suggesting that existing road safety efforts are having some effect. Among those measures that have contributed to saving lives include better laws and law enforcement on key risks like speeding, drinking and driving, and failing to use seat-belts, motorcycle helmets and child car seats; safer roads and vehicles; and stronger emergency trauma care following a crash. Much greater political will is needed to ensure that countries not only do more around these life-saving measures, but do more effectively.

Today we are at a crossroads in terms of addressing

Today we are at a crossroads in terms of addressing what truly is one of the greatest health and development challenges of our time. If we succeed, ensuring road safety would not only prevent death and injury, but would also allow for more walking and cycling, thereby making people more active. This in turn would help to reduce their exposure to air pollution and prevent some of the world’s leading causes of death and disability, like heart and lung diseases, cancer, diabetes and depression.

The private sector plays an important role

Within the road safety sphere, the private sector plays an important role. Companies can promote and facilitate road safety in different ways. Those companies which produce goods or provide services with a direct impact on road safety can contribute by:

  • Producing vehicles and building roads with safety in mind;
  • Providing services to the injured that are accessible to all;
  • Behaving responsibly such as by avoiding marketing alcohol towards youth;
  • Ensuring that public transport is safe.

All companies can also contribute by:

  • For companies with larger fleets, guaranteeing the safety of their own staff and their own fleets;
  • Supporting proven road safety interventions through their corporate social responsibility efforts;
  • Engaging in road safety campaigns targeted towards their employees, their employees’ families and the communities in which they operate;
  • Using their political influence to encourage action by national and local authorities.

The Sustainable Development Goals

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) include SDG targets 3.6 to reduce road traffic deaths and injuries by 50% by 2020 and target 11.2 to provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all by 2030. At present, we are well aware that target 3.6 will not be met by 2020. The 3rd Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety, to be held in Stockholm, Sweden in February 2020, will provide an opportunity for governments, international agencies, civil society organizations and their private sector partners to share successes and lessons from past efforts to tackle the road safety crisis; chart future strategic directions for global road safety through to 2030; and define ways to accelerate action on proven strategies to save lives. Private companies should more actively engage in road safety efforts in all countries and communities to help meet any future SDG or other target that might be set and take full advantage of one of our great opportunities to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all.