WHO Highlights Pedestrians' Risks

More than 270,000 pedestrians are killed on the world's roadways each year, according to the agency.

More than 270,000 pedestrians die on the world's roads every year, and they account for 22 percent of the total 1.24 million road traffic deaths, according to the World Health Organization, which is calling on governments to improve the safety of pedestrians. Under the banner "Make Walking Safe," the Second United Nations Global Road Safety Week (May 6-12) is being marked with events in nearly 70 countries to draw attention to the needs of pedestrians, generate action on measures to protect them, and contribute to achieving the goal of the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020 to save 5 million lives.

"More than 5,000 pedestrians are killed on the world's roads each week. This is because their needs have been neglected for decades, often in favor of motorized transport," said Dr. Etienne Krug, director of WHO's Department of Violence and Injury Prevention and Disability. "We need to rethink the way we organize our transport systems to make walking safe and save pedestrian lives."

WHO and partners have produced "Pedestrian safety: a road safety manual for decision-makers and practitioners" to promote a focus on combined enforcement, engineering, and education measures, including:

  • adopting and enforcing new and existing laws to reduce speeding, curb drinking and driving, and curb mobile phone use and other forms of distracted driving
  • installing infrastructure that separates pedestrians from other traffic (sidewalks, raised crosswalks, overpasses, underpasses, refuge islands, and raised medians), lowers vehicle speeds (speed bumps, rumble strips, and chicanes) and improves roadway lighting
  • creating pedestrian zones in city centers by restricting vehicular access
  • improving mass transit route design
  • developing and enforcing vehicle design standards for pedestrian protection, including soft vehicle fronts
  • organizing and/or further enhancing trauma care systems to guarantee prompt treatment for those with life-threatening injuries

The World Bank is marking Global Road Safety Week with a May 9 live-streamed event about pedestrian safety that includes Kweku Mandela, an activist who is the grandson of Nelson Mandela, along with Safe Kids Worldwide President and CEO Kate Carr and former Costa Rica Transport Minister Karla Gonzalez, who is now the World Bank's South Asia region transport sector manager. Nelson Mandela's great-granddaughter Zenani, age 13, died in a car crash as she was returning home from a World Cup concert in Soweto in 2010. Her death turned the Mandela family into activists for global road safety, according to the agency.

"On the same day that I lost Zenani, a thousand other families also lost a child on the world's roads," her mother, Zoleka Mandela, wrote on the website of the Zenani Mandela Campaign. "This disaster continues to rob us of 1,000 young people every single day."

"The Second United Nations Global Road Safety Week offers an opportunity to highlight the myriad challenges that pedestrians face around the world each and every day," said WHO Assistant Director-General of Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health Dr. Oleg Chestnov. "We are all pedestrians, and governments should put in place measures to better protect all of us. This will not only save lives, but create the conditions needed to make walking safe. When roads are safe, people will walk more, and this in turn will improve health and protect the environment."

WHO reports the proportion of pedestrians killed in relation to other road users is highest in Africa (38 percent) and lowest in southeast Asia (12 percent). In some countries, the proportion is nearly two-thirds of road traffic deaths, such as in El Salvador (62 percent) and Liberia (66 percent).

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