Traffic speed management key to saving lives

Excessive or inappropriate speed contributes to one in every three road traffic fatalities worldwide, according to a new report by the World Health Organization (WHO), Managing speed, which suggests that measures to address speed can prevent road traffic deaths and injuries.

Around 1.25 million people die every year on the world’s roads, 12 percent of these in the Americas. Studies indicate that typically 40-50% of drivers go faster than posted speed limits. Drivers who are male, young and under the influence of alcohol are more likely to be involved in speed-related crashes. Road traffic crashes remain the number one cause of death among young people aged 15–29 years. They are estimated to cost countries from 3-5% of GDP and push many families into poverty.

Yet only 47 countries of the world follow good practice on one of the main speed management measures, namely implementing an urban speed limit of 50 km/h or less and allowing local authorities to reduce these limits further on roads around schools, residences and businesses.

“Speed is at the core of the global road traffic injury problem,” notes WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan. “If countries were to address just this key risk, they would soon reap the rewards of safer roads, both in terms of lives saved and increases in walking and cycling, with profound and lasting effects on health.”

In the Americas, more remains to be done

In the Americas, 17 countries have already set maximum speed limits of less than 50 km / h in urban areas, which conform to best practices, and 13 countries give local authorities leeway to reduce the limits further. Control at the local level is important so lower speed limits can be set in populated or vulnerable areas such as those near schools or health facilities. However, laws on speed limits must be accompanied by strict compliance so that they are effective and thus save lives. Only one country in the Americas describes its compliance with these laws as “good”, according to a report on Road Safety in the Region of the Americas, published by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).

“The region of the Americas has made progress in adopting standards that limit speed in urban areas, but it needs to further strengthen the application of these standards to reduce deaths and injuries due to traffic,” said Eugenia Rodriguez, regional advisor on Road Safety at PAHO/WHO.

Speed management measures include:

  • building or modifying roads to include features that slow traffic, such as roundabouts and speed bumps;
  • establishing speed limits appropriate to the function of each road;
  • enforcing speed limits through the use of manual and automated controls;
  • installing in-vehicle technologies in new cars, such as intelligent speed assistance and autonomous emergency braking;
  • raising awareness about the dangers of speed.

Road traffic fatality rates are nearly three times lower in Europe compared to Africa. Countries that have had the most success in drastically reducing rates of road traffic death and injury in recent decades – Netherlands, Sweden, and the United Kingdom among them – are those that have addressed the issue holistically. They have prioritized safe speed as one of four components of the safe system approach, along with safe roads and roadsides, safe vehicles, and safe road users.

Within countries, municipal leaders have greatly contributed to a growing movement – often instigated at local level – to transform cities into more liveable places for all. By reducing speed and improving safety, their populations benefit from the added advantages of increases in walking and cycling and reductions in air and noise pollution. Such actions, in turn, have positive health benefits on rates of cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and other noncommunicable diseases.

Global Road Safety Week

Managing speed was released in advance of the Fourth UN Global Road Safety Week, 8-14 May 2017. The week and its related campaign “Save Lives: #SlowDown” draw attention to the dangers of speed and the measures which should be put in place to address this leading risk for road traffic deaths and injuries.

More than 20 countries in the Americas are carrying out a variety of information and awareness activities, for decision-makers and authorities of traffic-regulating institutions, as well as for the general public. Activities include dissemination of messages in media and social networks, transport systems, and schools. Road safety fairs, caravans, presentations in public places, signage work in urban areas, and promotion of commitments by local authorities to reduce speed limits are also being held.

Among hundreds of other events, Slow Down Days are being held in Colombia and Trinidad and Tobago, campaigns around schools are being held in Brazil, and parliamentarians are involved in activities in several countries.

Road Safety Week is a unique opportunity for advocacy on this theme, which contributes to achievement of the road safety-related Sustainable Development Goal targets 3.6 and 11.2. A new report is also scheduled for release during this week: Save LIVES: a road safety technical package, which details 22 key evidence-based measures considered most likely to impact on road traffic deaths and injuries, including a number linked to managing speed.       Geneva/Washington (PAHO/WHO)

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