A silent epidemic: rising road accident fatalities in focus in Ukraine as World Bank launches a new regional report on road safety

May 26, 2010

New World Bank Report Calls for Implementation of Action Agreements
Reached at the First Global Conference on Road Safety and UN Road Safety Decade over 2011-2020

Kyiv, May 26, 2010 – Unsafe road traffic conditions in the countries of Europe and Central Asia (ECA), including Ukraine, have tremendous adverse implications for their economic and social well-being, says a recent World Bank report presented today in Kyiv. Treating road safety victims is imposing an increasingly unbearable burden on these countries’ health and social services. Road traffic injuries are a major cause of death and disability, affecting young and working-age groups of society in particular, and ECA countries need to act now to prevent injuries and save lives, suggest World Bank experts.

The report Confronting “Death on Wheels”: Making Roads Safe in Europe and Central Asia, reviews the size, characteristics, and causes of the road safety problem in ECA countries. The report will help bring into action the agreements reached during the first global ministerial conference held in Moscow on November 19-20, 2009, under the main theme Time for Action, and the recently-adopted UN “Road Safety Decade of Action” over 2011-2020. The report finds that the magnitude of the road safety problem in countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), Eastern and Central Europe, the Baltic region, and the Balkans is much higher than in Western Europe, even though their car fleet is smaller and the number of kilometers they travel by car is lower. The report provides compelling evidence on the economic and social consequences of the silent epidemic and suggests a range of policies and strategies and to confront and prevent “death on wheels”.

“Road traffic injuries are already among the top 10 causes of death and disability in ECA and the trend could  worsen if strong and sustainable institutional arrangements and effective multisectoral interventions are not adopted,” – said Patricio Marquez, a World Bank Lead Health Sector Specialist for the Europe and Central Asia, and principal author of the report. “In countries such as Ukraine, the economic and social cost is significant, and contributes  to the demographic crisis facing the country. Country  economies in this regions  lose billions of dollars every year as a result of traffic injuries and fatalities”.

In ECA, the highest estimated annual costs to governments are in the large economies that also have sizeable populations: Russia (US$ 34 billion per year), Turkey (US$ 14 billion), Poland (US$ 10 billion), and Ukraine (US$ 5 billion). A combination of weak road safety management capacity, deteriorated roads, unsafe vehicles, poor driver behavior, and patchy enforcement of road safety laws, alongside exponential growth in the number of vehicles, are the key factors contributing to road traffic injuries and fatalities multiplying at a rapid pace.

“Road safety is an important component of the World Bank’s recently approved USD 400 million loan to modernize Ukraine’s road system but more can be done,” – said Martin Raiser, World Bank Director for Ukraine,  Belarus and Moldova. “The Bank stands ready to support Ukraine and other countries in the region to improve road safety - including through road safety reviews, strengthening capacity of national road safety authorities, improving safety features of road infrastructure, tightening enforcement, implementing public campaigns for safer driving, and strengthening emergency medical services in accordance with the UN Decade of Action commitment”.

According to the report, an effective country road safety strategy requires a systematic multisectoral approach with a politically strong and technically competent lead agency to coordinate contributions by the many government departments across which road safety responsibilities tend to be diffused: transport, interior, police, health, and education, among others. The goal should be to prevent the occurrence of injury, minimize the severity of injury when traffic injuries occur, and prevent lasting disability in the aftermath.

The report concludes that growing urbanization, accelerating growth in the number of vehicles, and patchy efforts to legislate and enforce road safety measures result in continued growth of road injuries and fatalities, and the time has arrived to support concerted efforts to make roads in ECA countries safer. Together with seven other development banks, on November 11, 2009, the World Bank issued a joint statement ahead of the Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety, outlining a broad package of measures that each institution would implement to reduce an alarming rise in the number of road injuries fatalities and disability in low and middle income countries.