Each year, 1.25 million people lose their lives on the world’s roads and another 20 to 50 million are seriously injured. The tragic loss from a road traffic death or serious injury is compounded by the harm to households and social networks. A disproportionate 90% of road traffic injuries (RTIs) occur in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), representing a major public health and economic burden. This is an eminently preventable problem that is critical to the development agenda. Unfortunately, due to lack of solid data, the impact of road injuries on economic growth and social welfare has been difficult to assess.
A new World Bank report funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies, The High Toll of Traffic Injuries: Unacceptable and Preventable, looks to fill the gap. It proposes a comprehensive methodology to quantify both the income growth and social welfare benefits that safer roads could bring to developing countries. The analysis is based on data collected from 135 countries over 24 years, and focuses on China, India, the Philippines, Tanzania, and Thailand—five geographically, demographically and economically diverse LMICs.
The study shows that reducing the number of RTIs in developing countries not only increases income growth, but also generates substantial welfare benefits to societies.
Key findings from the report include:
- Reducing the number of RTIs leads to long-term national income growth. This correlation is easy to establish as RTIs are the single largest cause of mortality and long-term disability among young people aged 15-29 (prime working age).
- Significant long-term income growth—7 to 22% increase in GDP per capita over 24 years—can be achieved by halving road traffic deaths and injuries, in line with the current UN targets.
- The study goes beyond productivity or economic gains, and highlights the broader welfare benefits associated with reducing road traffic mortality and morbidity, adding years of life free of injuries and lasting disabilities. This recognizes that GDP is an imperfect measure of social welfare, as it does not factor health benefits. The study finds welfare benefits equivalent to 6 to 32% of the national GDP can be realized from reducing road deaths and injuries by 50% over 24 years.
- By maximizing healthy years of life, free of injuries and disabilities, actions to reduce road traffic injuries can help countries increase productivity, enhance the well-being of their populations, and build human capital—a key developmental priority for the World Bank.
- Road safety goes beyond the transport sector, with a direct impact on public health, societies, and economies. Likewise, because road safety is an inherently cross-sectoral issue, real progress can only happen if all relevant stakeholders unite their efforts.