Road traffic injuries are now the number one cause of death for children and young adults, and the 8th leading cause of death globally.
UNITED NATIONS – The World Health Organization reports that more than 1.3 million people are dying on the world’s roads each year, making road injuries the leading cause of death for children and young adults and the eighth-leading cause of death worldwide.
“That’s the tip of the iceberg. It’s really 20-50 million injuries.”
Natalie Draisin is the North American director of the FIA Foundation, which campaigns for safer roads.
Draisin rejects the term car “accident,” saying accidents are acts of God, while car crashes can be prevented, be it through reduced speed limits, tougher helmet laws or lower blood-alcohol limits for drivers.
Those aren’t new ideas – implementing them is the problem. The U.S., for instance, fails to meet U.N. best practices on each of five different safety criteria.
But powerful spokespeople are starting to get the message across.
Zoleka Mandela is the granddaughter of Nelson Mandela and a U.N. Child Health Initiative Ambassador:
“I’m a mother that has tragically lost a daughter to road traffic injury. My daughter was killed in 2010. She would have celebrated her 21st birthday this year, and she was killed by a drunk driver.”
Mandela is working in parts of Southern Africa to make the long and dangerous routes that children walk to school safer, and her personal story has made her one of the world’s most prominent road safety activists.
Draisin says young people – particularly those who’ve lost their friends on the roads – are also speaking out and, increasingly, turning heads. Students in Bangladesh staged major protests this year after two high-school students were run over by a speeding bus, and the government responded by passing new safety laws. Similar student campaigns are taking off in Colombia, Mexico and even in New York City.
“Especially because you now have children speaking up and demanding change, you have something that cannot be ignored.”
If personal stories don’t sway lawmakers, maybe economic data will. By one study, road deaths and injuries sap countries of between 3 to 5 percent of GDP.