UN says road deaths kill as many as Aids
The United Nations held its first debate on road safety amid warnings that the problem is a 'public health crisis' on the scale of Aids, malaria and tuberculosis.
The meeting followed research by the World Heath Organisation which forecast that between 2000 and 2015 road accidents would cause 20 million deaths, 200 million serious injuries and leave more than one billion people killed, injured, bereaved or left to care for a victim.
The UN debate was arranged after lobbying by the Commission for Global Road Safety, a powerful road safety campaign group set up by influential figures, including the former Nato secretary-general Lord Robertson, representatives of the World Health Organisation and the World Bank, and the former Formula One world champion Michael Schumacher.
Robertson, who will address delegates in New York, will also warn the UN that its own policies, including the Millennium Development Goals, are adding to the crisis by investing in roads but not insisting on safety measures. Film star Michelle Yeoh, who made her name in action movies and as a Bond girl, will show delegates a film on the problem in Vietnam, in her role as an ambassador for the commission's Make Roads Safe campaign.
The group wants the UN to agree to big increases in funding for the problem - and Robertson says they have powerful support from Britain, the US and Russia. 'Every one of those statistics is a single human being,' Robertson told The Observer. 'You're talking about the number one killer of young people worldwide; the level of death is on a scale with malaria and TB, which get huge attention and enormous funds. It's a neglected worldwide health crisis of huge proportions.'
The World Health Organisation (WHO) says every year 1.2 million people die in road accidents - making it, according to WHO's 2002 calculations, the seventh biggest killer in the world, ahead of diabetes and malaria. The WHO predicted that by 2020 road deaths would become the number three killer, behind heart disease and suicide, although Aids is now a much bigger threat than when that forecast was made.
Yet international funding for Aids, malaria and TB was $4.7bn over the last seven years, compared with about $100m for road safety, the commission said.
Robertson said road safety was still seen as a 'Cinderella subject'. He wants UN delegates to agree that 10 per cent of funding for road building in developing countries be ringfenced to improve road safety measures.
The biggest killer
· Road crashes are already the number one killer of young people aged 10-24
· By 2020 the World Health Organisation estimates that road deaths will rise by 60 per cent
· Worldwide, from 2000-2015, one billion people are forecast to be affected by road deaths, injury or bereavement
· The cost to developing countries is put at $100bn a year, their total aid budget
· Wearing a seatbelt would save half of all car occupants who die in crashes
· In Britain 3,172 people died in road accidents in 2006
Sources: Commission for Global Road Safety; Department for Transport
Article source: The Guardian, 23 March, 2008 (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/mar/23/unitednations.transport)
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