Improving Road Safety – World Health Organization

Cyclist on Tight Road, Cropped, Dundas, Ontario KPThe World Health Organization (WHO) has released a new report on road safety, “The Global Status Report on Road Safety 2013“, which estimates that 1.24 million people die per year as a result of road traffic injuries.  The WHO report notes that road traffic fatalities are the leading cause of death, on a global scale, among people who are 15 to 29 years in age (WHO, 2013).

The report assesses 182 countries with a collective population of 6.8 billion people for policies that can be adopted and implemented to reduce road traffic deaths.  The policies are grouped under five headings: road safety management, safer roads and mobility, safer vehicles, safer road users, and post-crash response. The report includes a one-page summary for each one of the 182 countries assessed.

The report indicates that road traffic death rates have decreased in Canada from about 9.5 deaths per 100,000 people in 2000 to about 6.5 deaths per 100,000 in 2009.  While this is a healthy trend, the report also indicates that there were  2,227 road traffic fatalities in Canada in 2009, and that Canada lost approximately 5% of its GDP in 2009 because of road traffic crashes (WHO, 2013).  

When road traffic deaths are categorized by road users in Canada, the WHO reports that:

  • 69% occur among drivers and passengers of cars and light trucks;
  • 14% among pedestrians;
  • 9% among drivers of motorized 2- or 3-wheelers;
  • 3% among drivers and passengers in heavy trucks;
  • 2% among cyclists; and
  • 1% among drivers and passengers of buses (WHO, 2013).

Family Cycling, Dundas, Ontario KPWhile these numbers reflect the number of people killed in each road user category, they do not reflect the risk associated with each category of road user.  Analyses conducted for the United States indicate that the death rates per kilometre travelled are 23 and 12 times greater respectively among pedestrians and cyclists than among people who travel by car (Pucher and Dijkastra, 2003 as cited by the NCCEH, 2010).  It is expected that pedestrians and cyclists in Canada also have a much greater risk of dying from a road traffic crashes than their counterparts in vehicles.

From a road safety policy perspective, the WHO reports that Canada is doing well by having:

  • Regular inspections of existing road infrastructure;
  • National laws that require seat-belts in all new and imported cars;
  • Provincial laws that require child-restraints in vehicles;
  • Provincial maximum speed limits;
  • Provincial laws that require motor-cycle drivers and passengers to wear helmets;
  • A national law which regulates drinking and driving and allows random breath testing; and
  • Provincial laws that prohibit the use of mobile phones while driving (WHO, 2013).

However, the report also identifies several areas for improvement.  It notes that:

  • Canada does not have a road traffic fatality reduction target;
  • Canada does not require formal safety audits for new road construction;
  • 33% of all road traffic deaths in Canada involve alcohol and there is room for improvement in enforcement of drinking and driving laws; and
  • Canada has no law prohibiting the use of hands-free mobile phones while driving (WHO, 2013).

The WHO reports that 77% of the 182 countries assessed require a formal road safety audit for new road construction.  Canada is not among this group of countries.  The report explains that road safety audits can be used to assess, design and construct roads so they are safe for all road users including pedestrians and cyclists (WHO, 2013).

Bike Path, Dundas -DTThe WHO reports that 68 countries have national or sub-national policies to promote walking and cycling and 79 countries have national or sub-national policies to separate road users to protect vulnerable road users.  The report indicates that there are sub-national policies in Canada for both of these policies but it is not clear which jurisdictions within Canada do and do not have these policies (WHO, 2013).

The WHO report identifies New York City as an example of a jurisdiction that has made huge strides in reducing traffic fatalities by developing an Action Plan that seeks to reduce annual traffic fatalities by 50% by the year 2030.  The Plan includes:

  • The installation of 15,000 pedestrian countdown signal at intersections city-wide;
  • The implementation of 75 additional school speed zones where 20 mph (32 km/hour) is the maximum speed limit; and
  • The implementation of Neighbourhood Slow Zones in several neighbourhoods where the speed limit will be reduced to 20 mph (WHO, 2013).


Prepared by Kim Perrotta, Executive Director (Volunteer), Creating Healthy and Sustainable Environments (CHASE) Kim Perrotta/LinkedIn