Accounting for more than 1 million deaths every year, traffic fatalities today represent the eighth leading cause of death around the world and the second leading cause of death for young adults between the ages of 25 and 39. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), road crash injuries could become the third highest threat to public health by 2020 - outranking other such health concerns as tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, and lower respiratory infections.
In addition to these yearly fatalities, 20-50 million people also suffer non-fatal injuries in traffic accidents every year, further compounding the social and economic impacts of traffic accidents. Accompanying the human tragedy surrounding traffic accidents across the globe is also a very significant economic toll. Losses due to traffic injuries in these countries are estimated at $100 billion every year – an aggregated impact of 1-3 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) at the national level.
In the European context, Poland stands out as one country which has been particularly vulnerable to road safety concerns. More than 3,500 people died in traffic-related accidents in Poland in 2012 and the country’s death rate for traffic accidents – at 93 per million – is more than 50 percent higher than the European Union (EU) average of 55, making Poland one of the worst performing road safety countries in the EU. Although Poland was able to reduce the number of road death by 35 percent between 2001 and 2011, this rate was still much lower than the 45 percent achieved by the EU as a whole over this same period – highlighting the urgent need for Poland to take increased action.
In response to this need, policy makers in Poland are further committing the country to a course of action which can help assuage some of these road safety concerns. The country is a signatory to the United Nations Declaration on Road Safety and, as a member of the EU, it is furthermore obliged to follow the guidelines and policies outlined in the recently developed report, Towards a European road safety area: policy orientations on road safety 2011-2020.
To help bolster these commitments, key stakeholders in Poland are now taking renewed action aimed at reducing the death toll and injury rate in the country – targeting a 50% reduction in traffic-related fatalities and a 40% reduction in injuries by 2020. As part of this effort, Poland, with support from the World Bank, has developed the National Road Safety Program for 2013-2020 – designed to increase road safety mechanisms around the country and help Poland further contribute to the EU goal of halving the number of road deaths by 2020.
In addition to the implementation of this program, Poland, in coordination with World Bank’s Global Road Safety Facility, is developing a more structured framework for the implementation of those actions defined by the National Road Safety Program. A key result of this collaboration is the recently published Country Report on Poland: Road Safety Management Capacity Review, which offers a detailed description of the organization of road safety responsibilities in the country and provides a capacity review of road safety management and recommendations on key strategic actions. This review will help guide future road safety management in Poland, inform investments in this area, and promote road safety efficacy through early wins in road safety interventions.
The review identifies several key factors contributing to the high fatality rate in the country, which can be divided into three main groups: investments, change of behaviors on the road, and clear leadership prioritizing accountability and results. According to the report, these factors include unforgiving roadsides, undivided roads (leading to head-on collisions), high speed limits, low use of seat belts and child restraints, and risky behavior such as drinking and driving and speeding. The report also provides more than 70 recommendations – above all the need to create a strategic framework to improve management capacity for road safety. These recommendations are designed to help key stakeholders in Poland plan, coordinate, manage, monitor, and deliver effective road safety activities.
This implementation of improved road safety measures and the creation of an accompanying framework to guide these measures is illuminating Poland’s true commitment to improved safety on the country’s network of roads. By doing so, the country is putting safety first – to the benefit of everyone in the country.