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Road Safety: Decade of Action Looks to Save Five Million Lives

May 11, 2011

  • U.N.- World Bank campaign aims to save five million lives, prevent 50 million injuries between now and 2020.
  • World Bank President Zoellick urges countries, donors to invest in road safety.
  • India surveys high-risk roads in four states, drafts safety plans.

May 11, 2011 —The United Nations’ Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020 kicks off today amid growing momentum to reduce the death toll on the world’s roads—a trend on the rise in many emerging economies as more middle class families are able to afford cars and motor scooters.

About 1.3 million people are killed in road crashes every year, 90% of them in developing countries. Traffic accidents have become the leading cause of death for young people aged five to 29, killing more people worldwide than malaria.

In joining the U.N. to promote the Decade of Action, the World Bank Group will urge governments worldwide to implement reforms to create safer road systems, to save five million lives over the next ten years.

“For every death in a road crash,” said World Bank President Robert Zoellick at a road safety event last month, “many more people – up to 50 million a year – suffer severe injuries which can leave them disabled for life. In a developing country, this places a huge burden on individuals, families, and health care systems.”

Zoellick urged countries to invest in road safety, and called on donors to provide funds through the Global Road Safety Facility (GRSF), a global program housed in the World Bank. The GRSF is the first global funding platform of its kind dedicated to improving global, regional and country road safety management capacity.

The goal of the Decade of Action is to reduce the forecast 2020 level of road deaths by 50%, from 1.9 million to fewer than one million a year. Achieving the 2020 target could save up to five million lives and prevent 50 million serious injuries.

India Targets High-Risk Roads
One of the countries already benefiting from GRSF assistance is India, where the Bank has partnered with governments in three states—Assam, Gujarat and Karnataka—to prevent road deaths and injuries on 3,000 kilometers of high-risk roads. With about 200,000 deaths a year, or 550 every day, India accounts for 15% of the world’s road fatalities, although it has just one percent of the world’s motor vehicles. Many of these deaths are preventable by improved road design and management.

Since the project’s launch last fall, teams of engineers in the three states have completed training in how to conduct road surveys and draft related safety implementation plans. Engineers are now deployed across the states, carrying out surveys in vehicles equipped with panoramic digital cameras. Plans include such improvements as constructing pedestrian crosswalks, speed bumps, road shoulders and roadside railing, all of which reduce the number of road crashes.

The India project builds on the success of similar GRSF partnerships to develop safe road investment plans in Vietnam, Serbia, Peru, Argentina and the Philippines. In Vietnam, for example, one project conducted along a 3,000-kilometer road is expected to prevent about 360 fatalities per year.

Multilateral Development Banks Join Effort

The U.N. Decade of Action comes as a coalition of multilateral development banks—including the World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, Asian Development Bank, African Development Bank, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Islamic Development Bank, and European Investment Bank—joins the movement to prevent road fatalities.

Last month, World Bank President Zoellick joined film star Michelle Yeoh, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Julie T. Katzman, Interim Executive Vice President of the Inter-American Development Bank to announce the MDB Road Safety Initiative. Coordinated by the GRSF, the initiative will work to harmonize country approaches to improve road safety performance.

In addition, the U.N. Road Safety Collaboration, a consultative mechanism whose members are committed to road safety efforts, endorsed a Global Plan for the Decade of Action, which is being disseminated globally for country implementation. The plan focuses on building road safety management capacity; improving the safety of road infrastructure and broader transport networks; developing vehicle safety; enhancing the behavior of road users; and improving post-crash care.