Road traffic crashes – the greatest threat to children’s lives

Faith Kilford Vorting

The Third UN Global Road Safety Week, taking place on 4–10 May 2015, focuses on children and road safety and contributes to efforts to halt the increasing number of road crash deaths and save 5 million lives by 2020, as part of the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2010–2020. The week has been organized to highlight the plight of children on the world's roads, generate action to ensure their safety and promote the inclusion of safe and sustainable transport in the post-2015 development agenda. The hashtag for the global campaign is: #SaveKidsLives.

In the European Region there is no greater threat to the lives of children aged 5–17 years than a road traffic crash. The likelihood of death from road traffic injuries among children in low- and middle-income countries is almost twice as high as among those in high-income countries. The rapid motorization that has occurred in many countries has not taken the needs of children into account. Children are vulnerable as road users, whether as pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists or car occupants. To combat this relentless loss of daily life, the global campaign proposes ten strategies to keep children safe on the roads. 

These strategies are:

  1. controlling speed on all roads, and in particular enforcing a maximum speed limit of 30 km per hour on roads with high concentrations of pedestrians;
  2. reducing drinking and driving to protect children from this major threat;
  3. using helmets for bicyclists and motorcyclists to reduce the risk of serious head injury;
  4. restraining children in vehicles by using infant car seats, child car seats, booster seats and seat-belts appropriate for a child's age;
  5. improving children's visibility through wearing reflective strips, using headlamps on bicycles and motorbikes, appointing crossing guards around schools and enhancing street lighting;
  6. enhancing road infrastructure to slow traffic and separate different types of road users, and creating car free zones;
  7. adapting vehicle design to make safer cars for passengers and pedestrians;
  8. reducing risks for young drivers by introducing graduated driver licensing schemes;
  9. providing appropriate care for injured children with equipment and staff trained to treat children; 
  10. supervising children around roads, to complement the other measures.

Activities of countries in the WHO European Region to increase road safety for children

Many European countries are planning events and civil society has joined governments to support the global campaign. A range of initiatives, including press conferences, radio and television broadcasts and competitions, is being organized in several countries in the Region. WHO is supporting initiatives in Albania, Belarus, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Kyrgyzstan, Poland, the Republic of Moldova, the Russian Federation, Slovakia, Turkey and Uzbekistan; other countries – including Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cyprus, Georgia, Germany, Luxembourg and Sweden – are also organizing events. 

Examples of specific activities in countries include the following.

  • Slovakia will focus on testing drivers' knowledge of first aid and the safety of children in the car. Drivers will receive materials on first aid and safety precautions, as well as a small gift related to road safety. 
  • The Ministry of Transport of the Czech Republic will organize activities within regions and municipalities, working with non-profit organizations, schools, private companies and others, and guiding them in ways to improve road safety and organize road safety activities during the week. Well-known personalities from the areas of culture and sport will be also invited to support the campaign. 
  • The Russian Federation will try to engage children as "young road inspectors" to promote road safety in their schools and other institutions.
  • Lithuania will organize a workshop for municipalities on how to share good practice, with support from the Ministry of Transport and Communications, the Ministry of the Interior and other stakeholders.

#SaveKidsLives social media campaign

A variation of the well-known selfies, "#Safies" are being promoted by some countries this year. People are encouraged to print and customize #SaveKidsLives banners and take photos of themselves with the banners as they engage in safe behaviours on the roads, such as using bicycle and motorcycle helmets, using seat-belts and child restraints, making use of crossings and sidewalks, and wearing reflective clothing. Poland will engage in real-time photo sessions to promote and share #Safies.