Road accidents and injuries are biggest cause of mortality and disability among the youngest and most productive part of our societies. Road safety is a key element of sustainable transport policies creating healthier and wealthier societies. With this goal, WHO Europe has launched the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020 and a new health economic assessment tool for transport.
Road-traffic crashes kill over 350 Europeans every day, or over 120 000 per year. Almost half of them are pedestrians, motorcyclists and cyclists, and 6 out of 10 are aged 5–44 years (WHO data).
With this particular target group in mind, WHO/Europe has launched the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011–2020 in the WHO European Region (launched globally in 2010), along with the Global Plan for the Decade, which sets out how countries can save money, as well as lives.
WHO/Europe has also launched a new health economic assessment tool (HEAT), so that countries can measure the economic savings that can result from making cycling and walking safer and more popular.
The very first data coming from the pilot-test of HEAT from several countries within and outside the WHO European Region show promising results - estimates for Austria indicate that current levels of cycling, a mode of transport accounting for 5% of the total and with an average trip length of 2 km, save 412 lives every year due to regular physical activity, amounting to €405 million. In Scotland, United Kingdom, the annual savings would amount to £1–2 billion if the cycling share rose to 13% from the current level (1%). The new HEAT for walking will expand the opportunities of including this universal mode of transport into the calculation of the benefits of active transport.
More countries could gain similar benefits by investing in active transport and safer roads. Measures such as building raised crossings, pedestrian walkways, pavements and safe bicycle lanes could save tens of thousands of lives and billions of euros every year by reducing deaths and injuries on the roads and improving health through enhanced physical activity.
There is a great health potential in this emerging way of commuting as regular cycling and walking can reduce total mortality by 30%.
Countries spend far less on safety than their economies lose as a result of road accidents.
Most of those accidents and injuries occur to young people, and 2.4 million non-fatal injuries are a major cause of disability every year and account for the loss of up to 3% of a country’s gross domestic product (GDP) every year (through health care costs, premature loss of life, disability and time off work).
This is only a fraction of the real costs of road transport to society - pollution, congestion, landscape degradation and climate change make up about 8% of a country’s GDP every single year.
Policies for healthy transport have high economic benefits by reducing traffic crashes but also by making walking and cycling safer, improving public transport, air quality through reduced pollution and increasing physical activity. European governments should increase investment in such measures and encourage effective public transport.
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