Traffic accidents: Over 1.35 million people lose their lives, says WHO

Publicação: 11 de March de 2019

According to report from the WHO, traffic injuries are the leading cause of death among children and young people between the ages of 5 and 29

WHO Global Report on Road Safety in 2018 highlights insufficient progress to address road safety in the world

Since 2004, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned of the growing number of traffic deaths in the world, especially in the poorest and developing countries of the Americas, Africa and Asia. In these continents, traffic violence assumed the features of an epidemic and became one of the major public health problems. Low and middle-income countries, which hold only 54% of the world’s vehicles, account for almost 90% of the deaths by traffic injuries. The situation is so challenging that the WHO, the United Nations and the Red Cross have included traffic in the global humanitarian crisis package, alongside to the Ebola virus outbreak and the refugees’ drama.

According to the Global status report on road safety 2018, released in December 2018, road deaths continue to rise worldwide and more than 1.35 million people die every year as a result of traffic accidents, which means that on average, one person dies every 24 seconds. The document also reveals that traffic injuries are now the leading cause of death among children and young people between the ages of 5 and 29.

The risk of death in traffic is still three times higher in low-income countries, and the highest rates are in Africa, reaching 26.6 deaths per 100 thousand people. The WHO Global Situation Report also highlights that pedestrians and cyclists account for 26% of all road deaths. This number reaches 44% in Africa and 36% in the Eastern Mediterranean. Motorcyclists and passengers account for 28% of all deaths. The proportion is higher in some regions, for example, in Southeast Asia (43%) and the Western Pacific (36%).

In comparison to the “Global status report on road safety 2015“, 22 more countries have improved their laws, covering an additional 1 billion people. Currently, 46 countries, representing 3 billion people, have laws that set speed limits according to the best practices. The same is true for 45 other nations, with 2.3 billion people, and their laws on alcohol consumption.

The founder and director of Bloomberg Philanthropies and WHO’s Global Ambassador for Noncommunicable Diseases and Injuries, Michael R Bloomberg, says we must invest more in traffic education, prevention and attention to traffic safety. To him, it is necessary to adopt strong policies and oversight, rethink roads so that they become intelligent and run awareness campaigns. “Traffic safety is an issue that by far does not get the attention it deserves and is truly one of our greatest opportunities to save lives around the world”, he said.

The report, released every two or three years, is the main tool to measure progress in the 2011-2020 Action Decade for Road Safety.

More than three children a day lost their lives in Brazil

Every four minutes a child lost his life in traffic in the world. The numbers were released by the WHO in the document, published in 2015, “Ten Strategies for the Safety of Children in Traffic“. According to the report, the problem is more acute in low-income countries, where child mortality rates are on average three times higher than in high-income settings. In Brazil, in 2016, the data are also regrettable: 3.5 children died per day, or 105 lives were lost in a month.

According to figures compiled by the National Road Safety Observatory (NRSO), together with the Federal University of Paraná (UFPR), with data from the Datasus System, 1,292 deaths of children between 0 and 14 years of age were recorded. This age group represents 23% of the Brazilian population.

Brazil must halve deaths by 2020

According to the recent WHO Global Situation Report, Brazil recorded almost 39 thousand traffic deaths, with the highest number reaching drivers of motorcycles and motorized three-wheeled vehicles, and 31% of all deaths by traffic in Brazil reach these drivers. Numbers from the Ministry of Health show similar data (37 thousand). By 2020, Brazil must comply with an agreement with the UN to reduce traffic deaths to around 21 thousand a year.

Brazil currently ranks fifth in the ranking of countries with the highest rates of death in traffic, according to the WHO, behind only India, China, the US and Russia. In addition, Iran, Mexico, Indonesia, South Africa and Egypt are among the countries with most violent traffic. Combined, these ten nations account for 62% of the 1,2 million traffic fatalities that occur worldwide each year.

According to the ONSV, traffic accidents in Brazil are responsible for making 400 thousand people with some kind of sequelae.  In addition, about 60% of the hospital beds of the Unified Health System (SUS) are filled by accident victims. Also, according to the Observatory, traffic accidents result in annual costs of R$ 52 billion.

Measures to reduce traffic fatality rates

The WHO Global Situation Report has given important attributions to Brazil, such as reducing traffic deaths after stricter laws (Prohibition) and the beginning of mandatory ABS brakes on all motorcycles from this year forward. On the other hand, it put the country in the worst classification regarding the speed limit in urban areas. The WHO suggests that all cities in the world adopt maximum speeds of 50 km/h in urban areas and 30 km/h in residential areas and/or with stronger pedestrian circulation.

In December 2018, a hearing in the Committee of Transport and Transport of the Chamber of Deputies highlighted that most traffic accidents occur in municipalities, where there is an excess of motorcycles, little traffic signs and, often, a specific traffic agency is missing. Traffic management in municipalities was pointed out as the main challenge to halve accidents deaths in Brazil, by groups of 100 thousand inhabitants, by 2028. This goal is listed in the National Plan for the Reduction of Traffic Injuries and Deaths , which became a law (Law 13.614/18) in January 2018. However, for the ONSV observer Jorge Tiago Bastos, municipalities do not have the capacity to incorporate targets. He suggests that states identify those who want to change. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health’s traffic consultant, Cheila Lima, defended a national databank for traffic accident information and the standardization of incident reports in the states.

The Brazilian Society of Tropical Medicine (SBMT) has also warned to the issue. Since 2012, former President, Dr. Carlos Henrique Nery Costa calls attention to this epidemic. “Traffic accidents are a tropical problem, since the indicators are worse in the tropics. So, the SBMT sees urban violence as a whole, not just traffic accidents, but as a tropical problem and must lead advocacy to protect people from its consequences”, he says. He states that it is of the BSTM’s business to add knowledge to the topic. “We need to know more about the epidemiology of traffic accidents in order to establish effective public policies”, he explains.

According to the professor, it is necessary to understand the main types of injuries in order to offer the best treatment and emergency units equipment, and to carry messages that are in fact absorbed by drivers. To this end, the SBMT has a duty to participate in the collective effort to bring together new professionals and researchers, such as orthopedists, physical therapists, neurologists and neurosurgeons, plastic surgeons, educators, legislators, traffic professionals and many others related to the problem of traffic violence in the Tropics”, he explains. Finally, Dr. Carlos Henrique emphasizes that Tropical Medicine, particularly Urban Tropical Medicine, is not the exclusive property of those who deal with infectious diseases, but because essentially it is multidisciplinary, it involves all those who are concerned about the health problems of the Tropics.

See more:

– In an attempt to raise awareness of the traffic safety crisis, Jean Todt, president of the International Automobile Federation (FIA) and special representative of the Secretary-General for Road Safety (UN), sought the renowned filmmaker Luc Besson to present an audio-visual presentation highlighting the dangers children face around the world. Click here to watch Save Kids Lives”.

– UN launches fund for road safety; check out some facts about traffic deaths. Click here to watch the video Road accidents cause losses of USD 1,3 trillion a year”.

– Death on the roads. Click here to access Death on the roads”.

– Every year, throughout Brazil, traffic kills about 40 thousand people. It is estimated that, for each traffic-related death, seven victims remain in ICU. “The cost is immense for both the lives lost and the impact on the health system”, said Ednilsa Ramos, a researcher at the National School of Public Health (Ensp/Fiocruz), to the cover story of Radis magazine in February. Read the article “Radis debates traffic as a public health issue”.