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Global Road Safety: Reducing Collisions with Safer Roads, Vehicles and Drivers

January 25, 2022

Global Road Safety Blog

Motor vehicle travel — which includes cars, public transit, trucks, motorcycles, taxis, and more — supports economic and social development in countries worldwide. And yet, every year, motor vehicle crashes result in millions of injuries and deaths globally. 

In the United States, motor vehicle collisions are almost always the result of driver error. Speeding, distracted driving, and impaired driving top the list of factors that play a role in traffic crashes and deaths. 

However, the same is not true around the globe. More than 90% of road traffic deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries. In addition to driver error, these fatalities are also closely linked to unsafe vehicles and infrastructure. 

The Cost of Motor Vehicle Crashes

As the number of registered passenger vehicles has increased over the past few years, so have the deaths associated with vehicle collisions, both nationally and internationally. 

Globally, motor vehicle collisions amount to over 1.3 million deaths annually. There is no question that road safety is a global problem. The majority of fatal motor vehicle collisions occur in low and middle-income countries. Most of these fatalities are due to old and poorly maintained vehicles, outdated infrastructure, and poor driving skills. 

Motor vehicle collisions also lead to significant annual global economic losses and poverty in many developing countries. According to the CDC, “it is estimated that LMICs (Low- and Middle-Income Countries) will experience approximately $834 billion in economic losses from 2015–2030 due to fatal and nonfatal crash injuries.”

Road transport provides a vital contribution to the economic growth of many countries. As motor vehicle collisions increase in many regions, the urgency of addressing this issue accelerates. 

The recent trends in global road safety mean more than economic loss. Millions of people worldwide have experienced the loss of friends, family, and loved ones due to vehicle crashes.

Motor vehicle crashes are the eighth leading cause of death globally and the leading cause of death of children and young adults between the ages of 5 and 29 years old. With so many individuals and families impacted by this issue, too much is at stake for countries, businesses, and individuals not to take action. 

So, what can we do to reduce on-road injuries and fatalities? 

Tackling the Infrastructure Problem

Unclear or faded traffic signs, poor or faint lane markings, worn-out road surfaces, and outdated roads that aren’t designed for the current population size can be dangerous and lead to severe injuries and fatalities for drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists. 

Poor quality or deteriorating roads damage vehicles and put road users at risk. Improvements in road infrastructure design, construction, and maintenance help keep roads safer. 

Safer road infrastructure is one of the pillars of the UN’s Global Plan for the Decade of Action for Road Safety. The plan requires infrastructure standards such as, “vertical and horizontal marking (signs and painting); sidewalks; safe crossings; cycle paths; motorcycle lanes; bus lanes; safe roadsides; segregation of different modes of traffic; median separation of high-speed traffic; safe intersection design; and speed management suitable for the location, desired amenity, and type of traffic.” 

Another way many countries are improving road safety is by replacing traffic signals with roundabouts. Roundabouts are proven to improve safety and promote lower speeds. Since drivers will reduce speed entering and traveling through the roundabout, any possible collision would be reduced compared to a standard intersection and, therefore, less chance of injuries or death. 

Properly designed infrastructure which encourages sensible, attentive driving can reduce major collisions which add to serious injuries and fatalities on the roads. 

Improving Vehicle Design

Vehicle safety is another pillar of the Global Plan for the Decade of Action for Road Safety. While many safety upgrades have been made to the design of newer vehicles, there is no global standard for in-vehicle safety. In many countries, most vehicles don’t meet the UN’s basic safety standards. 

Fortunately, more countries are beginning to adopt these safety standards, and the automotive industry continues to invest a large part of the sector’s budget to ensure passenger and commercial vehicle safety. 

When looking at vehicle design, safety measures can be classified into two categories: active safety systems and passive safety systems. Active safety systems avoid or reduce the severity of a motor vehicle collision before it happens. Examples of active safety systems include Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB) and Lane Departure Warnings (LDW). 

Passive safety systems can help to protect the occupants of a vehicle and other road users if a collision occurs. Examples of passive safety systems include pre-tensioned seatbelts, airbags, and energy-absorbing deformation zones. 

Together, these systems have greatly reduced the number of vehicle collisions and related injuries over the last few decades. 

Creating Safer Driving Habits to Minimize Error

While infrastructure and vehicle design can certainly be improved to increase road safety, they’re hardly the only issues. Approximately 90% of all global motor vehicle collisions today are caused by human error. Roughly 30% of fatal crashes globally involve speeding, and driver distraction causes between 10-30% of road fatalities. 

Enforcing traffic law is important, but drivers need to learn to police their own actions to avoid traffic violations, or worse. Proper driver training is essential to teach and encourage appropriate habits and attitudes behind the wheel. It’s critical that drivers are aware of their limitations, the risks of speeding or distractions behind the wheel, and the influence of alcohol or drugs on their ability to drive safely. 

Learning and applying the right driving habits help drivers make better decisions behind the wheel. The Smith5Keys® helps drivers see, think, and act their way through various driving environments, challenges, and changes that exist regardless of where they travel or the vehicles they operate. Today, The Smith5Keys are taught in more than 100 countries.

Putting a Plan Together

The goal of the Decade of Action for Road Safety is to reduce traffic fatalities and injuries by 50% by 2030. To meet this ambitious goal, governments, businesses, and individuals are working to implement safer roads and vehicles and increase driver training programs. The only way to reach this target is by ensuring that safe vehicles are driven by safe drivers on safe roads. 

To learn more about what is being done around the world to tackle the rising trends in on-road crashes and fatalities, tune into the Global Road Safety podcast, sponsored by Smith System. Featuring interviews with safety experts and leaders, Global Road Safety is an initiative to reduce crashes and save lives — across every continent.