2.0 - Road Safety Around The World: Key Challenges And Issues

Version 5


    There are many factors we can work on to improve road safety, and they are even more effective when used in conjunction. They include:


    • Legislation, regulations, standards, and the means countries use to enforce them
    • Technological advances in cars, whether in primary safety (preventing accidents), secondary safety (limiting the impact of accidents) or tertiary safety (notifying the emergency response and care chain from within the vehicle)
    • Development of every component of infrastructure: signage, road design, the quality of road surfaces, dedicated lanes, communication and alert systems, remedial work on problem spots, retaining systems, etc.
    • Measures to train inform and raise awareness: road safety campaigns, preventive testing
    • Organization and reinforcement of the emergency response and care chain involved in handling accidents
    • Accident research to gain a better understanding of the causes and consequences of accidents, guide work on innovation and improve existing systems


    Road safety issues and investment capacity can vary widely from one country to another, and from one region to another. In poor countries, efforts to improve road safety run up against a lack of funding and, in some cases, political instability. But in emerging countries, the task is complicated by the explosion in car traffic and the rapid expansion of the road network. In the majority of developing countries, accident prevention and road safety lag behind the growth of road traffic, until the steep increase in the number of accidents and their cost for the community make it absolutely essential to close the gap - at the cost of substantial investments.


    Poor road safety is therefore a significant marker of economic inequalities and, within the same country, social inequalities. According to WHO (World Health Organization), over 91% of road fatalities occur in low to middle-income countries, which own only 50% of the global automobile fleet. The risk of dying in a road accident is 2.3 times higher in Africa than in Europe.

    Road accident mortality rate per 100,000 inhabitants



    Road mortality rate



    Eastern Mediterranean


    Western Pacific


    Southeast Asia






    Source: WHO, Global status report on road safety, 2013





    Road mortality rate

    Middle-income countries


    Low-income countries


    High-income countries


    Source: WHO, Global status report on road safety, 2013


    Even within a relatively homogeneous geographic area, the road safety level can vary markedly from one country to another. In Europe, for example, the road mortality rate varies in a ratio of 1 to 5 between the safest and the riskiest country.


    Road accident mortality rate per 100,000 inhabitants, in Europe



    Road mortality rate



    United Kingdo




















    Source: WHO


    These differences do not look set to disappear, despite significant improvements in many countries and a generally stable road mortality rate. According to WHO, the number of road fatalities stood at 1.24 million in 2010, the same figure as in 2007, whereas the number of motor vehicles worldwide rose 15% over the same period.

    But this overall result covers marked differences between so-called rich and poor countries. Between 2007 and 2010, the number of road deaths fell in 88 countries, including 42 high-income countries, 41 middle-income countries and only five low-income countries. Over the same period, the number of road deaths rose in 87 countries, including 55 middle-income countries, 28 low-income countries and only four high-income countries. 


    The challenges therefore vary widely from one country to another, based mainly on the level of socioeconomic development. In emerging countries, road safety programs generally address one or more of the following seven aims:

    • Educate motorists and road users
    • Tighten road legislation
    • According to WHO, "Only 28 countries, covering 7% of the world’s population, have comprehensive road safety laws on five key risk factors: drinking and driving, speeding, and failing to use motorcycle helmets, seat-belts, and child restraints"
    • Make infrastructures safer
    • Relieve pressure on the most congested roads and treat the most dangerous zones
    • Protect the users most at risk, i.e. two-wheel vehicles and pedestrians often obliged to share the road with high-powered motor vehicles
    • The proportion of vulnerable users (pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists) among road deaths is highest in low-income countries, where it comes to 57%, as 51% in middle-income countries and 39% in high-income countries (source: WHO)
    • Set up a system of controls and penalties commensurate with the risk posed by automobiles
    • Develop the emergency response and care chain


    These catch-up and investment programs are usually initiated and financed by the authorities. In Indonesia, for example, the government launched the National Road Safety Plan in 2011 with the objective of reducing road mortality by 50% by 2020.

    This type of investment plan can also be sponsored, financed or led by major international organizations, such as the UN, WHO, World Bank, NGOs and so on. One such example is the Global Road Safety Partnership. Hosted by the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, it is comprised of some 50 international partners and provides road safety engineering to over 20 emerging countries.


    In high-income countries, investments are instead channeled into improving and expanding existing systems, and developing innovations likely to prompt a quantum leap in road safety. One of the most promising avenues in this area consists in creating smart infrastructures and vehicles that can communicate with each other in order to anticipate risks and respond as quickly as possible in the event of an accident. Many of the European Union's ITS (Intelligent Transport Systems) programs address this issue.