European roads too dangerous for young people

In the WHO European Region, road traffic injuries kill about 100 children and young people aged under 25 every day. For every death, there are on average 35 non-fatal injuries, often with long-term effects on victims' health. Pedestrians killed on the roads often include children under 10 years, as they are less able to cope with traffic risks. Similarly, children and young people aged over 15 are more likely to die from road crashes as car occupants or as users of motorcycles and scooters, partly because of their lack of experience. Males comprise some 80% of the people aged 0-24 who are involved in road crashes, because of their greater exposure to and tendency towards risky behaviour such as speeding and drink-driving.

While overall injury death rates are decreasing in many countries in the European Region, they vary widely, and no progress is being made in some countries.

Creating a healthy environment on European roads

Sharing country experiences, reviewing the effectiveness of policies and focusing on high-risk groups are essential to creating healthy and safe environments on European roads. Research has proved that many lives can be saved by:

  • improving transport and urban design, and the enforcement of speed limits;
  • using stricter driving tests;
  • reducing permissible levels of alcohol in drivers' blood;
  • requiring motorcyclists and moped drivers to wear helmets, and car occupants to wear seat-belts; and
  • creating car-free areas in residential areas with many children.

Important environmental factors contributing to road safety are road design, urban structure and population density, the matching of road design and vehicles, lighting and signs on streets, and road maintenance.

Road safety measures must give priority to vulnerable road users, such as cyclists and pedestrians. Providing safe routes for children to walk or cycle to school not only lowers the number of road traffic injuries but also encourages greater physical activity among young people, this helps to reduce overweight and obesity.

Other injuries

Road traffic injuries cause 39% of deaths among children and young people aged 0-19 years in the European Region, followed by drowning (14%), poisoning (7%), falls (4%) and fires (4%). The latter four causes are estimated to result in around 3 million hospital admissions and 37 million visits to emergency departments among people aged 0-14 years in the European Region.

Fifth Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health

In 2004, the Fourth Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health adopted the Children's Environment and Health Action Plan for Europe (CEHAPE), which includes four regional priority goals to reduce the burden of environment-related diseases in children. The second goal is to reduce mortality and morbidity from injuries, including road traffic injuries, and to ensure the provision of safe conditions that also facilitate more physical activity among children.

WHO has investigated the Region's progress towards reaching the regional priority goals. WHO/Europe published the findings in a series of fact sheets that will contribute to discussions at the Fifth Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health, to be held in Parma, Italy on 10-12 March 2010.