Executive summary

Background

Each year, about 1.2 million people die in crashes on the world’s roads and many millions are seriously injured. Taking effective action to cut this unacceptable toll begins with reliable data, on the scale of the problem, exposure to crash risks and the effectiveness of policies. Transport ministries, road safety agencies, research institutes, industry and non-governmental organisations co-operate in the International Traffic Safety Data and Analysis Group (IRTAD) to improve collection and analysis of data, understand trends in the rates of death and serious injury and improve the empirical basis for designing more effective road safety policies. Common reporting standards allow benchmarking of performance across the membership of the IRTAD. The group’s 2016 Road Safety Annual Report provides the most recent road safety data for member countries, including provisional data for 2015 and an overview of road safety strategies in each country.

At the mid-point of the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-20, the inclusion of road safety targets in the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) enhances the visibility, urgency and ambition of global road safety policy. Most countries have national road safety strategies with ambitious targets in place and many of these are aligned with the objectives of the Decade of Action. In April 2016, the UN General Assembly in resolution 70/260 confirmed the SDG road safety targets. SDG 3.2 aspires to reduce global road traffic deaths and injuries by 50% by the year 2020, compared to their 2010 levels, while SDG 11.2 calls to “provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety, notably by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, women, children, persons with disabilities and older persons” by 2030. The aspiration set by the SDGs now requires countries to intensify their efforts in co-ordinated road safety actions. Part of that effort will be strengthening capacity to collect and analyse road safety data.

Findings

While the 32 IRTAD member countries for which data are consistently available made good progress in reducing road deaths in the first half of the UN Decade of Action – the number of road fatalities fell by 8.8% between 2010 and 2014 – this positive trend faltered in 2015 when the number of road deaths increased in at least 19 countries. Based on the still provisional 2015 data, only nine countries managed to reduce or stabilise their road death toll in 2015.

Looking at the longer-term trend, the number of road fatalities in IRTAD countries decreased by 42% between 2000 and 2014. Many countries saw reductions of over 50%, and some up to 70%. The implementation of more systematic road safety strategies, improvements in road infrastructure and vehicles as well as better road trauma management all contributed. However, the economic downturn that started in 2008 also contributed through its impact on mobility patterns, accounting for up to two thirds of reductions in the number of road deaths according to analysis undertaken by the IRTAD Group.

Five countries achieved fatality rates of three or less deaths per 100 000 inhabitants in 2014: Iceland, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Norway and Switzerland. At the other end of the scale, the rate was 12.3 in the worst performing IRTAD member and 26 per 100 000 among IRTAD observer countries.

Data disaggregated by category of road user shows progress in reducing traffic deaths has been very uneven. The number of car occupants killed decreased in virtually all countries between 2010 and 2014. The number of cyclists killed, however, has increased in 17 of the 32 countries. The number of pedestrians killed in traffic increased in ten countries. In Argentina, Sweden, New Zealand, the United States and the United Kingdom pedestrian fatalities increased by more than 10 %.

Deaths among riders of powered two-wheelers (PTWs) decreased by 20-35% in 20 countries between 2010 and 2014. But three countries – Argentina, Chile and Ireland – saw an increase of more than 40%. Smaller increases between 2% to 10% were recorded in Hungary, Austria and the United States.

Trends in fatalities also differ by age group. In almost all countries, there has been a reduction in the number of young people between 15 and 24 years killed in road crashes. But the number of fatalities among senior citizens aged 65 years and over increased in 16 out of the 32 countries. In many countries seniors now represent the biggest proportion of pedestrian traffic fatalities.

Policy insights

Focus road safety policy on vulnerable road users

While fatalities among car occupants continue to fall everywhere, there is less progress – and in some cases regression – for fatalities among pedestrians, cyclists and notably seniors above 65 years of age. Policy makers should ensure these groups are also made safer. Moreover, measures to protect vulnerable road users improve road safety for everyone.

Enforce drink driving laws, speed limits and the wearing of seat belts and motorcycle helmets

Drink driving, speeding and the non-wearing of seat belts in cars and helmets on motorcycles are leading contributors to crashes resulting in serious and fatal injuries. They represent common safety challenges in all countries and can be tackled through established international best practices even in very different contexts.

Analyse the reasons behind the relatively poor road safety performance in 2015 and adapt policies

The most recent data suggest an interruption in the reduction in the number of road fatalities in IRTAD countries. This development merits careful investigation and monitoring to establish whether what is being observed is an incidental, one-off poor year or the start of a negative trend. Reversal in a single year, especially in countries where the number of fatalities is small, can simply reflect statistical variation but the number of countries reporting an increase in deaths is disquieting. Policy makers should therefore seek a thorough understanding of the factors behind this plateauing, in order to adapt road safety policies to continue to deliver progress in the second half of the Decade of Action. Systematic review of existing policies becomes even more pertinent in light of the possibility that up to two thirds of the reduction in road fatalities in the recession following the 2007 financial crisis was the result of changes in mobility behaviour and traffic patterns caused by reduced incomes rather than road safety policies.