Lives Lost On The World’s Roads

An estimated 1.35 million people die from road crashes around the globe annually, and something like 50 million more are seriously injured or disabled, according to the World Health Organization. “That’s the equivalent of a Covid-19 pandemic every year,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, its director-general, said of the carnage.

On the third Sunday of each November, the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims commemorates those lost and traumatized lives with a series of memorials, concerts, vigils, candle lighting ceremonies, rallies across the globe. Events will also take place online for this year’s tribute, held on November 15.

In addition to honoring the victims of traffic crashes, the world-wide initiative aims to: raise awareness about the tremendous burden and cost to families, communities and countries; acknowledge first responders and other emergency service workers for their role in saving survivors; and encourage governments, NGOs and other humanitarian groups globally to improve safety by implementing policies and practices known to help save lives by preventing future traffic deaths. 

Unsafe speeds were cited as a significant contributor to the soaring death rate, and #SpeedKills is the central message of this year’s World Day of Remembrance activities.

“Traffic violence is an epidemic that we know how to control by lowering speed limits in cities and designing roadways to prioritize people’s safe mobility rather than their speed, especially important for those walking and biking, and for our kids and seniors, who are most at risk,” Leah Shahum, director of the Vision Zero Network, an American nonprofit that promotes Vision Zero strategies to end traffic deaths and severe injuries, said in a statement.

 The Vision Zero or Safe System approach to roadway design, based largely on the understanding that humans are human and make mistakes, has been widely acknowledged and implemented in recent years for its success toward eliminating road deaths and serious injuries. Vision Zero was first implemented in Sweden in the 1990s, has proved successful across Europe, and is gaining momentum in American cities. 

More than 40 U.S. communities have adopted the strategy since 2014.

However,  the U.S. has fallen behind other developed nations in keeping people safe, according to the Vision Zero Network, which noted that about 40,000 people in this country die each year in preventable traffic crashes. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the rate of traffic deaths nationally increased by about 20%, based on the first six months of 2020 data analyzed by the National Safety Council. 

Dozens of events across the country are planned. Many will be led by members of Families for Safe Streets, people who have been injured or lost loved ones in traffic crashes. 

World Day of Remembrance dates to 1995 when an organization under the umbrella of the European Federation of Road Traffic Victims observed European Day of Remembrance. Soon afterward the commemoration became global. In 2005, World Day was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly.

“We know what works, but, frustratingly, many of our leaders seem unwilling to change the status quo by prioritizing safety over speed. This complacency is killing us,” Shahum added.

Click here to learn more about World Day and scheduled events around the world, and here for information about U.S. events. To access the W.H.O.’s most recent global status report on road safety, click here.

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