The World Health Organization has kicked off a campaign to cut millions of road traffic deaths and injuries by at least half by 2030.This follows the August 2020 adoption by the United Nations General Assembly of a Decade of Action for Road Safety.

More than 50 million people have died in road crashes since the automobile was invented by German entrepreneur Karl Benz in 1886. Now, the World Health Organization reports road accidents kill more than 3,500 people every day, adding up to nearly 1.3 million deaths and some 50 million injuries every year.

The WHO cites road traffic injuries as the leading cause of death globally for children and young people aged 5 to 29 years. The director of the WHO’s Department for Social Determinants, Etienne Krug, said most of these deaths and injuries are preventable.

He said a centerpiece of the U.N.’s Global Plan for reducing traffic accidents and saving lives is to get people out of their cars and have them shift to safer, healthier modes of transportation.

“Move away from a car-based transportation system to more walking, cycling and public transport. And to do that, we have to make it safe. The plan also advocates for involving more young people. As I said, it is the leading cause of death for young people and giving them a bigger role in shaping the new wave of transportation. And a greater role for private sector,” he said.

Krug said the private sector is important because of its responsibility for the safety of the vehicles it manufactures. He said a big source of danger is the large number of secondhand cars dumped by rich countries into developing countries.

“Secondhand cars who are not up to the safety standards, who either are sold in the countries or are imported from other countries who do not want them anymore. So regulating the export of used cars and the import on the other side is a very important part of improving safety on our roads,” he said.

A report last year by the U.N. Environment Program found an estimated 14 million poor quality, highly polluting older vehicles were exported from Europe, Japan, and the United States between 2015 and 2018.Four out of 5 cars, it said, were sold to poorer countries, with more than half going to Africa.

If things remain as they are, the World Health Organization warns an estimated 13 million deaths, and 500 million injuries will occur during the next decade. Most of these preventable deaths and injuries, it says, will be in low- and middle-income countries. 

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