News feature
Traffic crashes are biggest killer of youth

The Middle East has been highlighted by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as having the highest rates of road traffic deaths and injuries among young people. The WHO report, released ahead of the First United Nations Global Road Safety Week (23-29 April this year), warns that if comprehensive global action is not taken to reverse this trend, the number of deaths and injuries is likely to rise significantly.

Worldwide road traffic crashes are the leading cause of death among people aged between 10 and 24 – that's ahead of diarrhoea, malaria, TB and HIV.

The WHO report, Youth and Road Safety, says that nearly 400,000 young people under the age of 25 are killed in road traffic crashes every year. Millions more are injured or disabled.

The vast majority of these deaths and injuries occur in low- and middle-income countries. The highest rates are found in Africa and the Middle East. Young people from economically disadvantaged backgrounds are at greatest risk in every country. Young males are at higher risk for road traffic fatalities than females in every age group under 25 years.

Road traffic collisions cost an estimated US$518 billion globally in material, health and other expenditure. For many low- and middle-income countries, the cost of road crashes represents between 1-1.5% of GNP and in some cases exceeds the total amount the countries receive in international development aid.

Youth and Road Safety stresses that the bulk of these crashes are predictable – and preventable. Many involve children playing on the street, young pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists, novice drivers and passengers of public transport.

The report points out that children are not just little adults. Their height, level of maturity, their interests, as well as their need to play and travel safely to school, mean that they require special safety measures. Also, the report says, protecting older youth requires other measures such as lower blood alcohol limits for young drivers and graduated license programmes.

Safety for children

As part of the First United Nations Global Road Safety Week, WHO launched the report to draw attention to the high global rates of death, injury and disability among young people caused by road traffic crashes. Youth and Road Safety highlights examples in countries where improved measures such as lowering speed limits, cracking down on drinkdriving, promoting and enforcing the use of seatbelts, child restraints, and motorcycle helmets, as well as better road infrastructure and creating safe areas for children to play have significantly reduced the number of deaths and injuries.

“The lack of safety on our roads has become an important obstacle to health and development,” said Dr Margaret Chan, WHO director-general. “Our children and young adults are among the most vulnerable. Road traffic crashes are not 'accidents'. We need to challenge the notion that they are unavoidable and make room for a pro-active, preventive approach.”

Nelly Ghossaini from Lebanon, the 21-year-old Chair of the World Youth Assembly, said: “The World Youth Assembly is our opportunity to step forward and take responsibility. The time has come to make our voices heard. The Youth Declaration for Road Safety is only a first step in a long journey towards safer transportation for youth around the world.”

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Saudi road accidents cost nearly $6bn a year

Road accidents in Saudi Arabia cause 4,000 deaths, 30,000 injuries and cost the kingdom SR21 billion (about US$5.7 billion) a year, according to a 24 June report in the Arab News.

Of the 30,000 injured about 2,000 are permanently handicapped.

Naif Al Shammary, a Saudi researcher was quoted as saying that the SR21 billion represented 4.7% of GDP, which was double that of developed nations. Al Shammary warned that this figure would rise to SR55 billion a year by 2020 if no action was taken to reverse the trend.

He said the kingdom currently does not have enough doctors or paramedics to deal with the soaring number of accidents, and urged more investment be made in the country’s ambulance service, the Saudi Red Crescent Society (SRCS). He added that the SRCS attends less than half of the kingdom’s road accidents.

Iran’s deadly roads

Iran's highways are considered to be among the most dangerous in the world. Around 27,000 people are killed and around 250,000 are injured on Iran’s roads each year (Iran has a population of nearly 70 million) – that’s three deaths every hour. Most of these are reportedly youths.

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