Today on the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims, we remember those killed in crashes. These are violent, unnatural and unnecessary deaths and we empathise with the victims of the terrorist attacks in Paris. Just as no one expects nor deserves to die whilst travelling to work or school, nor should people be killed at a restaurant or at a concert.
And whilst deaths caused by terrorism are rare for most of the world, we cannot say the same about road deaths. Over 1.25 million are killed each year. Crashes are the leading cause of death for 15-29 year olds in the world.
Nor can we forget the victims from previous years. Since RoadPeace held the first Day of Remembrance for road traffic victims in 1993, over 22 million people have died in crashes. A road death is a life sentence for the families as traumatic bereavement has lasting consequences. Our members talk about coping and adjustment, not recovery.
We now know much about these unnatural and unnecessary deaths. We know that three out of every four are male. Women are the ones left behind—the mothers, wives, sisters and daughters—and often the ones demanding change.
We know where they were killed. Almost three quarters of them occur in middle income countries. We know in which region of the world they are concentrated. Africa has the highest road death rate.
We know their ages and how premature their deaths were. Older children and young adults, those aged between 15-44 years, account for almost half of all deaths. They are old enough to have children of their own but still have their own parents alive, thus devastating both young and older relatives.
We know how they were travelling when they were killed. Pedestrians were 22% of those killed globally, but accounted for 39% of the road deaths in Africa. Motorcyclists were 23% of the world’s road deaths but were over one in three of those killed in South East Asia. Motor vehicle occupants accounted for the largest number of those killed.
But what we don’t know is how many involved road traffic crime. We do not know how many were innocent victims killed by the unlawful actions of others. This data is not collected by WHO or even by most countries, including here in England and Wales. We should know this but we don’t. whilst WHO has invested much effort in reviewing basic road traffic laws, including speeding and drink-driving, this has yet to include the criminal charges that apply after a death or injury has been caused by driving.
The UN Decade of Action for Road Safety is almost half way through. WHO’s Global Road Safety Status Report 2015 concluded that road deaths have stopped increasing, but they have not yet begun to decrease. The new UN Sustainable Development Goals has included the target of halving global road deaths and injuries by 2020, but this will require a step change in commitment from government in prevention efforts.
This week, the international community gathers in Brasilia to take stock of the progress made and the challenges that lie ahead. RoadPeace will be there arguing the case for justice to be an integral part of road traffic injury prevention.
But now we must also remember that not only are crashes not accidents, but too often they are also crimes.