This is how road safety affects your quality of life

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Nneka Henry, Head, UN Road Safety Fund


  • In today’s world, no matter where you live, road safety – or the lack thereof – affects your quality of life.
  • People in cars are between eight and 20 times less likely to be killed in a road crash than pedestrians, bicyclists, or motorized two-wheelers.
  • Community-centered development needs to be prioritised by policymakers and strengthened through collaboration with other stakeholders.

Solving the road safety crisis isn’t just about how long we live; it’s about how we live. In today’s world, no matter where you live, road safety – or the lack thereof – affects your quality of life. Road crashes kill one person every 24 seconds. That’s more than 3000 people killed in a day, of which 500 are children.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had far-reaching consequences, especially for the forgotten road safety crisis. And, yet, inadvertently, it was the series of COVID-19 lockdowns that substantially reduced the rate of road traffic deaths drastically.

In one steep swoop, and at significant economic cost, political will and collaboration curbed people’s mobility and led us to reaching the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of halving road traffic deaths by 2030. But this great lockdown was not desirable or fully sustainable for any of us.

Linking road safety to quality of life

Vulnerable road users account for about 54% of global road traffic deaths. People in cars are between eight and 20 times less likely to be killed in a road crash than pedestrians, bicyclists, or motorized two-wheelers. It’s safe to say that, for citizens worldwide, there is a larger issue at stake when it comes to improving road safety – it’s about our wellbeing and quality of life. After all, that was the promise that all 193 UN Member States made in 2015.

In fact, linking the notion of road safety to not only how long we live, but also how we live isn’t new. The imperative to improve road safety appears twice in the 2030 Global Development Agenda. First, with the goal to halve road traffic deaths under the SDG that addresses health and wellbeing. Second, under SDG 11, which addresses the need to balance our urban development with social, economic and environmental sustainability, all the while explicitly calling for improved road safety.

Of course, the measure of success for halving road traffic deaths and injuries is the waning rate of traffic deaths. While substantially lowered death rates are critical, this context ignores the opportunity that improved road safety provides: the chance to enjoy healthy lives, wellbeing, and freedom of movement safely.

Further afield, the Social Progress Index (SPI) – the global framework for measuring aspects of wellbeing – also credits road safety as a core measure for social progress. The SPI links people’s sense of personal safety to the rate of road traffic deaths, and ultimately deems road safety to be a basic human need in a successful society. This is a worthy goal to aspire to.

Changes to road safety systems can save lives

Citizens everywhere – particularly in the world’s 125 low- and-middle income countries where 93% of road traffic deaths occur – are holding governments accountable for the promise of affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems that improve road safety.

Supporting how long we live doesn’t have to be expensive nor does it have to come at the expense of how we live – we can and should aspire to achieve both through targeted road safety financing. From an average of US $100,000 to just over US $300,000 worth of development assistance per country, changes to road safety systems are saving lives in developing countries most affected by this crisis.

More so, authorities can replicate the successful community-centered development strategies. Many countries have picked up on the growing discomfort that citizens feel when faced with unliveable streets and spaces. This is especially true as more regions worldwide are strategically promoting priorities: such as community-centered city development in Zambia or a greater share of walking and cycling lanes in Ethiopia.

Given that we know that people want to be able to walk, cycle and move safely, policymakers and city officials don’t have to go it alone. UN agencies, companies and civil society all play a role in this and can offer their expertise.

Committing to a better life for us all

Since 2018, the United Nations Road Safety Fund (UNRSF) has been coordinating the UN’s support to help countries deliver on their promise of a safer and liveable future. Projects from reclaiming Africa’s streets for pedestrians and cyclists, to expanding safe schools zone models in the Philippines and the 10step plan for safer road infrastructure in Tanzania clearly demonstrate that improved road safety brings about a better quality of life and saves lives.

However, despite the proof that safe, liveable cities can be achieved, the promises of being and feeling safe on our roads remain largely unfulfilled. Reaffirming road safety as a global development priority at the upcoming UN High-Level Meeting on improving road safety, and pledging support to expand the reach of UNRSF projects present two concrete possibilities. Member states, UN agencies and companies can express stronger political will. They can commit meaningful financing to work together to improve the quality of life for us all – while solving the road safety crisis at the same time.

We cannot afford to miss these opportunities.

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