Road traffic crashes are the leading cause of death among young people between 10 and 24 years, according to a new report published by the World Health Organization (WHO). The report, Youth and Road Safety, says that nearly 400 000 young people under the age of 25 are killed in road traffic crashes every year. Millions more are injured or disabled.
The vast majority of these deaths and injuries occur in low- and middle-income countries. The highest rates are found in Africa and the Middle East. Young people from economically disadvantaged backgrounds are at greatest risk in every country. Young males are at higher risk for road traffic fatalities than females in every age group under 25 years.
Unless more comprehensive global action is taken, the number of deaths and injuries is likely to rise significantly. Road traffic collisions cost an estimated $518 billion globally in material, health and other costs. For many low- and middle-income countries, the cost of road crashes represents between 1-1.5% of GNP and in some cases exceed the total amount they receive in international development aid.
Youth and Road Safety stresses that the bulk of these crashes are predictable – and preventable. Many involve children playing on the street, young pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists, novice drivers and passengers of public transport.
The report points out that children are not just little adults. Their height, level of maturity, their interests, as well as their need to play and travel safely to school, mean that they require special safety measures. Also, the report says, protecting older youth requires other measures such as lower blood alcohol limits for young drivers and graduated license programmes.
As part of the First United Nations Global Road Safety Week (23-29 April, 2007), WHO is launching the report to draw attention to the high global rates of death, injury and disability among young people caused by road traffic crashes. Youth and Road Safety highlights examples in countries where improved measures such as lowering speed limits, cracking down on drink-driving, promoting and enforcing the use of seat-belts, child restraints, and motorcycle helmets, as well as better road infrastructure and creating safe areas for children to play have significantly reduced the number of deaths and injuries.
"The lack of safety on our roads has become an important obstacle to health and development," said Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General. "Our children and young adults are among the most vulnerable. Road traffic crashes are not 'accidents'. We need to challenge the notion that they are unavoidable and make room for a pro-active, preventive approach. "
Youth and Road Safety is accompanied by a second and more personal document, Faces behind the figures: voices of road traffic crash victims and their families. Developed jointly by WHO and the Association for Safe International Road Travel, this book presents first-hand accounts of the experiences of victims, their families and friends following road crashes. The stories place a highly moving human face on the statistics provided by many road safety reports around the world. They reveal the physical, psychological, emotional and economic devastation that occurs during the aftermath of road traffic deaths and injuries. In particular, these accounts deepen our understanding of the enormous suffering that occurs behind each death and injury every year. They also highlight some of the initiatives undertaken by groups and individuals to improve road safety by sharing their concern, frustration and anger in order to prevent the same from happening again.
Faces behind the figures include:
The First United Nations Global Road Safety Week is being organized by WHO, the UN Regional Commissions and partners in a bid to promote greater awareness of road traffic incidents and to give young people a voice. Spearheading the global campaign, a World Youth Assembly will be held in Geneva, Switzerland, where young delegates from over 100 countries will gather on 23-24 April 2007 to share their experience and plan joint activities for better road safety. World leaders including the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, the British Prime Minister Tony Blair and stars including Moby will be giving messages to the opening of the World Youth Assembly.
"The World Youth Assembly is our opportunity to step forward and take responsibility. The time has come to make our voices heard. The Youth Declaration for Road Safety is only a first step in a long journey towards safer transportation for youth around the world," said Nelly Ghossaini from Lebanon, the 21-year-old Chair of the World Youth Assembly.
Countries and communities will mark the event throughout the world. Governments, the UN and other international agencies, as well as private sector companies, foundations and groups working toward better road safety are expected to organize hundreds of local, national and international initiatives.
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