Road traffic accidents: the young people's pandemic

April 19, 2007

Road traffic accidents (RTAs) - not AIDS, cancer or any other disease - are the major cause of death for 15-19-year-olds worldwide. And there are many more male victims than female, says an Editorial in this week's edition of the Lancet.

The Editorial coincides with the publication of the World Health Organisation's "Youth and Road Safety" report, and the start of the first UN Global Road Safety week on April 23.

It says that RTAs are the second most likely cause of death for 10-14 year olds and 20-24 year olds, and the third most likely cause in children aged 5-9 years.

The editorial says: "Most of the victims will be young men and boys. Men aged under 25 years are nearly three times as likely as women of that age to be killed in a road-traffic accident."

It goes on to say that so far April 2007 has been no exception to the horrors of road accidents worldwide. In Induruwa, Sri Lanka, a truck and bus collision killed 23 people, while during the first two days of the Thai new year holiday, 98 people died in RTAs and more than 1,300 were injured.

The Youth and Road Safety report highlights that the problem is worse in poorer countries. In 2002 (the latest year of complete figures), more than half of the estimated 380,000 young people who died in RTAs worldwide were in Africa and south-east Asia.

Further chilling statistics in the report estimate 7,000 people aged under 25 will be killed in RTAs in the upcoming road safety week - and an estimated 1.2 million people of all ages lose their lives each year in RTAs.

As well as loss of life and injury, RTAs in low-income and middle-income countries cost US$65-100 billion. Serious injury can see a person lose their lifelong earning capacity, their education and place a burden on their family who will end up caring for them.

The editorial goes on to say that young male cyclists, motorcyclists and pedestrians in poorer countries are more at risk of death in an RTA as the roads in those countries are not geared up for motor vehicles to share the road space with them. Protective or bright clothing is also rarely worn in such countries.

Young road users are also at risk due to drinking alcohol, driving too fast, and inexperience of complex traffic conditions. Some deliberately take risks while driving due to peer pressure.

Better road planning, more cyclists wearing helmets, and tougher police enforcement against drink driving are among the measures that would reduce RTA casualties.

The Editorial concludes: "But the individual solution lies with what is perhaps one of the hardest things to change - human behaviour. Road accidents disproportionately affect young people. Being taught about road safety from a very young age must become a priority, with adults setting a good example at all times."
-end-


Lancet

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