Road safety

September 2015

Key facts

  • About 337 000 people die each year as a result of road traffic crashes in the Western Pacific Region.
  • Road traffic injuries are the leading cause of death among people aged 15–44 years.
  • 95% of the Region's fatalities on the roads occur in low- and middle-income countries, even though these countries have only two-thirds of the region's vehicles.
  • 69% of those dying on the world’s roads are “vulnerable road users”: pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists.
  • Only one country in the region (Australia) has comprehensive legislation addressing all five major road safety risk factors (speed, drink-driving, helmets, seat-belts and child restraints).

In the Western Pacific Region approximately 337 000 people are killed each year as a result of a road traffic crash. Million more people suffer non-fatal injuries, with many incurring a disability as a result of their injury.

Road traffic injuries cause considerable economic losses to victims, their families and to nations as a whole. These losses arise from the cost of treatment (including rehabilitation and incident investigation) as well as reduced/lost productivity (e.g. in wages) for those killed or disabled by their injuries, and for family members who need to take time off work (or school) to care for the injured.

Despite the burden, road traffic injuries have been neglected from the regional public health and safety agenda for many years, despite being predictable and largely preventable. Evidence from many countries shows that dramatic successes in preventing road traffic crashes, injuries and deaths can be achieved through concerted efforts that a wide range of multi-sectoral stakeholders including the transport, police and health sectors

Who are affected?

  • More than 95% of deaths that result from road traffic injuries occur in low- and middle-income countries of the Western Pacific Region. The risk of dying in a road traffic crash is 2.5 times higher in low- and middle-income countries of the Region, compared to high-income countries.
  • Those aged 15 to 44 years account for 49% of regional road traffic deaths, highlighting the major impact on the young and the economically active portions of population.
  • From a young age, males are more likely to be involved in road traffic crashes than females. Three-quarters of all road traffic deaths in the Western Pacific Region are males.
  • For every person killed there are thousands more injured to various degrees of severity with a large proportion resulting in disability.
  • The poor are particularly vulnerable to road traffic crashes and injuries can push families even further into poverty with the costs of prolonged medical care, the loss of a family breadwinner or the costs of caring for family members with disability.

Road traffic injuries are preventable

  • Road traffic injuries are not “accidents”. “Accidents” are defined as unexpected outcomes that occur by chance.
  • Road traffic injuries are characterised by well established risk factors which are amendable to intervention and therefore prevention.

Effective road safety requires multi-sectoral collaboration

Road safety is a multi-sectoral responsibility.

  • Reducing risk in the Region’s road traffic systems requires commitment and informed decision-making by government, industry, nongovernmental organizations and international agencies.
  • Reducing risks also requires participation by people from many different disciplines, such as road engineers, motor vehicle designers, law enforcement officers, health professionals and community groups.

What can be done?

Road traffic injuries can be prevented. Governments need to take action to address road safety in a holistic manner that requires involvement from multiple sectors (transport, police, health, education) and that addresses the safety of roads, vehicles, and road users themselves. Effective interventions include designing safer infrastructure and incorporating road safety features into land-use and transport planning; improving the safety features of vehicles; and improving post-crash care for victims of road crashes. Interventions that target road user behaviour are equally important, such as setting and enforcing laws relating to key risk factors, and raising public awareness about these. Below are some key risk factors.


An increase in average speed is directly related both to the likelihood of a crash occurring and to the severity of the consequences of the crash. Some other facts are below.

  • Pedestrians have a greater chance of surviving a car crash at 30 km/h or below.
  • 30 km/h speed zones can reduce the risk of a crash and are recommended in areas where vulnerable road users are common (e.g. residential areas, around schools).
  • Apart from reducing road traffic injuries, lower average traffic speeds can have other positive effects on health outcomes (e.g. by reducing respiratory problems associated with car emissions).


Drinking and driving increases both the risk of a crash and the likelihood that death or serious injury will result.

  • The risk of being involved in a crash increases significantly above a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.04 g/dl.
  • Laws that establish BACs of 0.05g/dl or below are effective at reducing the number of alcohol-related crashes.
  • Enforcing sobriety checkpoints and random breath testing can lead to reductions in alcohol-related crashes of about 20% and have been shown to be very cost-effective.

Motorcycle helmets

  • Wearing a motorcycle helmet correctly can reduce the risk of death by almost 40% and the risk of severe injury by over 70%.
  • When motorcycle helmet laws are enforced effectively, helmet wearing rates can increase to over 90%.
  • Requiring helmets to meet a recognized safety standard is important to ensure that helmets can effectively reduce the impact of a collision to the head in the event of a crash.

Seat-belts and child restraints

  • Wearing a seat-belt reduces the risk of a fatality among front-seat passengers by 40–50% and of rear-seat passengers by between 25–75%.
  • Mandatory seat-belt laws and their enforcement have been shown to be very effective at increasing seat-belt wearing rates.
  • If correctly installed and used, child restraints reduce deaths among infants by approximately 70% and deaths among small children by between 54% and 80%.

WHO response

Coordinating the Decade of Action for Road Safety

In 2010 a United Nations General Assembly resolution proclaimed a Decade of Action for Road Safety (2011–2020). This Decade was launched around the world in May 2011 with the aim of saving millions of lives by improving the safety of roads and vehicles; enhancing the behaviour of road users; and improving emergency services. WHO, in collaboration with the United Nations regional commissions, is the secretariat for the Decade and plays a key role in guiding global efforts by continuing to advocate for road safety at the highest political levels; compiling and disseminating good practices in prevention; sharing information with the public on risks and how to reduce these risks; and drawing attention to the need for increased funding.

Monitoring progress through global status reports

WHO will provide one of the major tools for evaluating the impact of the Decade of Action for Road Safety through the development of Global status reports on road safety. The first Global status report on road safety, published in 2009, provided the first comprehensive assessment of the road safety situation globally, while the second report – which will serve as a baseline for the Decade of Action for Road Safety – was released in March 2013. Supplementing status reports for the Western Pacific Region have also been produced.

Providing technical support to countries

WHO works across the spectrum in countries, from primary prevention work through to rehabilitation of those who have been involved in road traffic crashes. As such, WHO works in a multisectoral manner, in partnership with national stakeholders from a variety of sectors (e.g. health, police, transport, education) as well as with other parties involved in road traffic injury prevention, such as nongovernmental organizations and academics.


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