Carnage on roads

carnage on roads

There is carnage on our roads of epidemic proportions. Deaths and serious injuries devastate families and communities, causing untold anguish as well as economic hardship.

  • More than 1.2 million people are killed annually globally, and many more suffer life-changing horrific injuries, including brain and spinal injury.
  • Every 30 seconds someone dies.
  • Road death is the 9th biggest killer, expected to rise to 7th. 

The worst hit are the poorest

Most casualties occur in low and middle income nations with the least resources for road safety infrastructure, enforcement of road safety laws, and emergency services.  

There is a rapid paving of roads across low and middle income nations, connecting rural areas to health care, trade, education, and often the internet. But as paved roads grow, so they are filled with traffic, causing casualties. 

Casualties reduce efforts to reduce poverty and share prosperity; up to 5% of GDP of the poorest nations is spent on the aftermath of road crashes, including emergency response, health care, and lost labour.


Fundamentally, people and vehicles don't mix. Our rapidly growing cities and towns need designing for people on foot and bicycles, with prioritised and entirely segregated routes, and provision of public transport between suburbs and other cities and towns, using modern rail and bus solutions, accessible to everyone. 

Vehicles kill and maim at any speed because they are hard and heavy. However, faster speeds increase risk exponentially. Traffic speed is a number one killer. The faster a vehicle, the less likely it is to stop in time, and the harder the collision. Size also increases risk. The larger the vehicle, the harder it hits; many casualties involve large goods vehicles. 

There have been many advances in vehicle and road design that can save many lives. For example active safety systems on vehicles that can prevent crashes (such as automated emergency braking (AEB) and intelligent speed adaptation (ISA - which can control a vehicle within a speed limit through satellite technology). Other examples are passive safety systems on vehicles (such as air bags to protect occupants and softer bumpers and bonnets to mitigate injuries to people on foot and bicycles). Safety systems on our roads, as well as segregated space for people on foot and bicycles, include, for example, median crash barriers.  However, many vehicles and roads are not fitted with such safety systems; regulation of the safety of vehicles and roads in different countries varies, with low and middle income countries typically having fewer safety regulations. 

Other major causes are the behaviours of drivers: impaired driving (alcohol, drugs, tiredness), driver distractions (mobile phone use), and failure to use proven safety systems such as seat belts and motorcycle crash helmets. Awareness campaigns help, but it has been proven that it is very challenging and takes years to improve people's behaviours. 

What's happening?

There are steps being taken in many nations, from lower speed limits, to segregated paths for people on foot and bicycles, to rules controlling the safety standards of vehicles. But the pace of change does not match the urgency of the crisis. Progressive laws that save lives are slow coming. 

Take action 

Get involved in our Vision Zero campaign for a world of safe, sustainable, healthy and fair transport.  Vision Zero campaign>

If you drive, sign the Driver Pledge>

Learn more

The tragedy of children and young people dying on our roads>

The three crises on our roads>

Car safety standards through the charity global NCAP

Road infrastructure standards through the charity iRAP

Hong Kong road sign speed


World Health Organisation / Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation