Road Traffic Issues: A Public Health Priority

Evi Dallman, RN, BSN, MSN-PNP Candidate
Evi Dallman, BSN, RN

About 1.25 million people die each year as a result of road traffic crashes and half of those are “vulnerable road users”: pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists (WHO, 2016). One of the targets included in the United Nations’ (UN) Sustainable Development Goals, goal number 3 Good Health and Well-being, is to halve the number of global deaths and injuries from road traffic accidents by the year 2020 (UN, 2016). Road traffic injuries are the leading cause of death among young people ages 15 to 29 years (WHO, 2016). The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that 90% of road traffic deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries; ironically these countries have only 54% of the world’s registered vehicles (WHO, 2015). Among low- and middle-income countries, the cost of road traffic crashes can be as high as 5% of the gross national product (WHO, 2016). Africa has the highest rate of fatality while Europe has the lowest.

You may view the WHO (2016) global interactive map to see the estimated road traffic death rate (per 100,000 population) from 2013 for your country here

In 2010, 60% of road traffic deaths reported in El Salvador were pedestrians (WHO, 2015). The major risks for pedestrians are driver behavior, pedestrian behavior, road design, land-use planning, vehicle design, and trauma care (WHO, 2013). Measures to protect pedestrians are recommended in each category. For example, road design changes include reducing speed limits, separating pedestrians from traffic, improving roadway lighting, and improving mass transit; land-use planning includes designing or redesigning cities so that people’s homes, workplaces, schools and shops are in close proximity (WHO, 2013).

See the WHO Make Walking Safe brochure here.

According to the 2015 Global Status Report by the WHO, Guatemala is aligned with the UN’s 2020 target to reduce traffic fatalities by fifty percent. The Guatemalan government enforces national laws on speed limits, drunk and drug-driving, seat-belt use, motorcycle helmet use, and mobile phone use, but not on the use of child restraints (WHO, 2015). Additionally, the report highlights that the government also does not have established laws requiring formal audits for new road construction projects or regular inspections of existing road infrastructure. Guatemala reported 1,522 deaths from traffic fatalities in 2013 of which 83% were male (WHO, 2015). This reported value underestimates the total number of fatalities because it is the total number of police records as defined by death within 24 hours of a crash. Up to 50 million people suffer from non-fatal injuries caused by road traffic accidents and of those who survive a traffic accident in Guatemala, 60% are permanently disabled according to the 2013 press report of the National Council for the Care of People with Disabilities (WHO, 2015).

Is there evidence of reduced morbidity and mortality when protective laws are in place and infrastructure is improved? Yes; for example, according to the WHO (2013) the Netherlands made significant efforts to reduce the mortality of road injuries. They reduced some areas to 30 km/h zones, raised highly visible crossings, raised awareness of safety with drinking and driving as well as speeding, and paid special attention to areas where children and elderly walk (WHO, 2013). Through these efforts the estimated rate of reported road traffic deaths has reduced from about 5.5 deaths per 100,000 population in 2004 to 3.4 per 100,000 population in 2013 (WHO, 2015). The difference in this case is that the Netherlands is a high income country. I do feel that if governments make it a priority to budget for such changes, it is possible in the low- and middle-income countries. The battle for the low-and middle-income countries will be choosing how to prioritize targets within the Sustainable Development Goal number 3 to meet all objectives efficiently with fewer resources.



Travel Guatemala: David Hutt’s travels – (2012). Retrieved from

United Nations. (2016). Goal 3.:. Sustainable development knowledge platform. Retrieved from

World Health Organization. (2015, October). WHO | 10 facts on global road safety. Retrieved from

World Health Organization. (2015). WHO | Global status report on road safety 2015. Retrieved from

World Health Organization. (2016). WHO | Road safety. Retrieved from

World Health Organization. (2013). WHO | Road traffic injuries publications and resources – Make walking safe. Retrieved from

World Health Organization. (2016). WHO | Road traffic injuries. Retrieved from

Leave a Reply