Road deaths declared a public health “crisis”

By Mata’afa Keni Lesa In Sydney 10 May 2017, 12:00AM

The Western Pacific region – which covers Samoa - is one of the most dangerous places in the world for road users with the third highest chance of dying in a road traffic crash.

Statistics provided by the World Health Organisation (W.H.O) show that people living in the Western Pacific region have an 18.5 per cent chance of dying in a road traffic crash, the third highest with South Africa holding the unenviable distinction of being the most dangerous place with 24.1 per cent. 

It means nearly 900 people are killed each day on the roads, with speed being a major factor in up to half of fatal crashes.

For Samoa, 76 per cent of those deaths are pedestrians. The other leading causes of traffic crash deaths is evenly split between drivers and passengers of buses and drivers and passengers of heavy trucks with 12 per cent each.

In terms of road fatalities, the worst year recorded for Samoa is 2009 where more than 50 people were killed on the roads. It was the year when the government implemented the controversial road switch.

According to the W.H.O, the number of “wasted lives” represents a “public health crisis” which has a “terrible impact on individuals, communities and countries.” 

“They involve massive costs to often overburdened health care systems, occupy scarce hospital beds, consume resources and result in significant losses of productivity and prosperity, with deep social and economic repercussions,” W.H.O. says.  “The numbers speak for themselves: this is a public health and development crisis that is expected to worsen unless action is taken.”

But the real tragedy is that these deaths could have been prevented, according to the W.H.O. Regional Director for the Western Pacific, Puleleiite Dr. Shin Young-soo.

“Each one of these deaths is a tragedy that could and should have been prevented. Even those who survive horrible crashes often end up with lifelong disability,” he said.

Puleleiite made the point in a video message screened during the launch of the United Nations Global Road Safety Week in Sydney. 

Australia’s Governor General Sir Peter Cosgrove was among the high level officials at the launch where Sydney’s iconic harbour bridge was lit up in yellow to reflect Australia’s commitment to road safety and road users all over the world.

Australia’s Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Darren Chester, said far too many lives are wasted as a result of traffic crashes and now is the time to address this public health crisis once and for all.

 “Over the coming week governments from across the globe will meet with senior policy makers from a range of organisations to find ways to save lives on our roads,” Mr. Chester said.

 “More than 900 people die as a result of road crashes in the Western Pacific Region every day.”

 “The focus of 2017’s UN Global Road Safety Week is on speed, and this is an issue that certainly impacts on road safety in Australia.”

 “The Australian Government is committed to road safety and this is a subject I am passionate about. I do not accept that death and serious injury are a necessary part of road travel.”

Parliamentary Secretary for Regional Roads, Maritime, and Transport, Kevin Anderson, said Australia, like most nations, has a lot of work to do. 

 “In 2016, in NSW 384 people were killed and more than 12,000 people were seriously injured,” he said. “These are not just numbers, they are real people who leave families and friends behind who will never be the same.”

For the United Nations, the Global Road Safety Week is an opportunity to reflect on the magnitude of road traffic injuries and the urgent need to scale up action to prevent road crashes. 

The theme for this year’s United Nations Global Road Safety Week is managing speed to keep roads safe for pedestrians and other road users.

Research shows that reducing average travelling speeds by just 5per cent could reduce fatal road crashes by 30er cent.

‘’If every vehicle on every road slowed down even a little, there would be fewer crashes – and certainly fewer serious injuries and deaths,’’ said Puleleiite.

He added that managing speed is more than setting speed limits. It requires “conscientious law enforcement and the integration of speed management and monitoring in the design of roads and vehicles. 

The first step, road safety experts say, is raising awareness on the dangers of speed.

“I have heard people say that death and injury on the road are an inevitable consequence of transport, motorization, and rapid economic development – and therefore that nothing can be done,” said Puleleiite. ‘’This is wrong.’’

Road traffic injuries and deaths are not “accidents” because they can be prevented.

Under the safe systems approach to road safety recommended by W.H.O, zero is the only acceptable number of road deaths, the Director noted. 

‘’A country’s economic growth must be reflected in safer roads for its citizens — not and acceptance of danger.

“The Sustainable Development Goals (S.D.Gs) call for a 50% reduction in road traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2020. There is an urgent need to expand and accelerate the implementation of tried and tested policies to improve road safety in order to meet these ambitious but achievable development targets.

However, the pace of change has been too slow. Between 2010 and 2013, road traffic mortality rates in the region dropped by just 4per cent.


Facts about road traffic crashes from W.H.O

• About 1.24 million people globally die each year as a result of road traffic crashes—that’s nearly 3400 deaths a day.

• Half of those who die on the world’s roads are vulnerable road users: pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists.

• Road traffic injuries are the leading cause of death globally among people aged 15–29 years.

• Around the world, almost three times more men than women die from road traffic injuries.

• Five key risk factors in road traffic deaths and injuries are: drinking and driving, speeding and failing to use motorcycle helmets, seat-belts and child restraints.

• Over 90% of the world’s road traffic fatalities occur in low- and middle-income countries, even though these countries have only about half the world’s vehicles.

Without action, annual road traffic deaths are predicted to increase to around 1.9 million by 2030 and to become the seventh leading cause of death.

By Mata’afa Keni Lesa In Sydney 10 May 2017, 12:00AM
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