It may have escaped your attention (I certainly haven’t heard much about it in Cyprus) but May 4th – 10th is the United Nations’ third Global Road Safety Week.
Horrifyingly, about 186,300 children under 18 die from road traffic crashes every year – that’s more than 500 children every day – and rates of road traffic death are three times higher in developing countries than in developed countries.
The Third UN Global Road Safety Week – #SaveKidsLives – seeks to highlight the plight of children on the world’s roads and generate action to better ensure their safety. The week features hundreds of events hosted by governments, international agencies, civil society organisations and private companies, including the delivery of the ‘Child Declaration for Road Safety’ to policy-makers.
These events highlight the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) package of key strategies for keeping children safe on the road.
These strategies include controlling speed, which is a contributing factor in around one-third of all fatal road traffic crashes in high-income countries, and up to half in low- and middle-income countries.
Long, straight roads which pass by schools, residences and businesses and which facilitate travel at high speed place children at significant risk says the WHO.
Over the last 20 years, 20 mile per hour zones (that’s 30 kilometres per hour) have been introduced around schools and residences in London, United Kingdom. In addition to setting this speed limit, infrastructure such as speed humps and chicanes have been installed on these same streets. Children under fifteen have benefitted since the introduction of these ‘20 is plenty’ zones, by a 46 per cent reduction in deaths among pedestrians and a 28 per cent reduction in deaths among cyclists during the period 1987–2006.
British road safety charity Brake has joined the call to expand these zones with its GO 20 campaign. Julie Townsend, deputy chief executive, Brake, said: “It is a global travesty that so many kids around the world are killed and injured on roads every day, and denied their right to safe, healthy, active travel.
Even in the UK, a developed country with a comparatively good road safety record, thousands of children are killed and seriously injured every year, and the figures are now going in the wrong direction. As the #SaveKidsLives campaign makes clear, we need meaningful, sustained, long-term action to create a better world for our children, both in the UK and across the globe. We are appealing to UK drivers to do their bit by going 20 in communities, and to the UK government to change the national default urban speed limit to 20mph.”
Other important factors are reducing or eliminating drink-driving and encouraging the use of helmets for cyclists and motorcyclists.
Consuming alcohol before driving not only increases the chance of a road traffic crash occurring, but also the likelihood that death or serious injury will result. The risk of a crash begins to rise significantly when a driver has a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of around 0.04 g/dl.
For children, wearing a helmet is the single most effective strategy for reducing the risk of injury to the head while riding bicycles or motorcycles. For cyclists of all ages, the appropriate use of a helmet decreases the risk of a head injury by 69 per cent, while for motorcyclists of all ages, helmet use reduces the risk of death by 40 per cent and the risk of serious head injury by more than 70 per cent.
Children riding in cars are also at risk, and the WHO’s top ten strategies include restraining children in vehicles: “For children who are occupants of a vehicle, a range of restraints is available to protect them. These include infant car seats, child car seats, booster seats and seat-belts, and their use depends on the age, weight and height of the child. As compared to using seat-belts alone, booster seats are estimated to reduce by 59 per cent the risk of children aged four to seven years sustaining significant injuries during a road traffic crash”.
Seeing and being seen are fundamental prerequisites for the safety of all road users, but are especially important for children due to their particular vulnerability. The UN recommends wearing white or light-coloured clothing; using retro-reflective strips on clothing or articles such as backpacks; using headlamps on bicycles as well as front, rear and wheel reflectors and using daytime running lights on motorcycles and vehicles.
Road infrastructure is also important: roads are usually built primarily for the benefit of motorised transport, with little consideration of the needs of the communities they pass through.
“Building new and modifying existing road infrastructure with a concern for safety would enhance the livability of these communities and reduce risks to children from road traffic crashes” says WHO.
Modern vehicles are designed with numerous safety features which aim to protect not only the occupants, but also pedestrians and cyclists who may come into contact with a car – crumple zones, ‘pedestrian-friendly’ bonnets – and airbags for occupants. Continuing research into making vehicles safer for those both inside and outside the car are needed.
A disproportionate number of young drivers contribute to the world’s crash fatalities and serious injury. Contributing factors include speeding, drinking or drugs and driving, and texting and driving. “Greater restrictions on driving, such as those offered through graduated driver licensing programmes, can result in significant reductions in road traffic crashes and fatalities overall” says the UN. Such programmes follow a gradual, phased approach, so that a novice driver can gain experience behind the wheel, with restrictions until full driving privileges are granted. In settings where these programmes exist, road traffic crashes among this group have declined by as much as 46 per cent.
“Road traffic death and injury are eminently preventable” concludes the WHO. “The countries which have garnered the political will needed to address this issue have demonstrated this, and in doing so have spared the lives of hundreds of thousands of children and saved their nations countless resources”.
The WHO says that if its strategies for keeping children safe on the road were implemented by all countries, they would do much to achieve the goal of the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011–2020 to save five million lives.