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Visualizing the global burden of traffic deaths

CarCrashIt may be hard to believe, but traffic accidents and vehicle emissions kill more people worldwide than AIDS.

This past Monday, I had the opportunity to speak at a launch event for a new report about the burden of disease from road transport at the Overseas Development Institute in London.  The report, Transport for Health: The Global Burden of Disease from Motorized Road Transport, estimated for the first time early death and disability from air pollution and injuries from transport. The Global Road Safety Facility at the World Bank collaborated with the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation to produce this study, which reflects the substantial contribution of Global Burden of Disease researchers around the world.

The report revealed that motorized transport causes more deaths globally than HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, or malaria. In total, road transport caused more than 1.5 million deaths and 79.6 million healthy years of life lost annually. The figure below from the study shows how some of the most economically productive age groups in society have the highest rates of disease burden from road transport, primarily due to injuries. When it comes to vehicle emissions, children and the elderly are most at risk from dying early or being disabled by these pollutants.


During the launch event, Kevin Watkins, ODI’s Executive Director, spoke about a recent visit to Kenya, where he met children who had to cross a 10-lane highway—the Nairobi-Thika “Super Highway”—to get to school. The highway is one of the busiest in the Nairobi Metropolitan Region, serving as a major shipping route between different economic hubs in the country. The road is also part of an international highway that extends from Nairobi to Moyale, Ethiopia.

Without access to a crosswalk or pedestrian footbridge, the Kenyan schoolchildren were forced to navigate the 10 treacherous lanes of traffic twice a day, Dr. Watkins recounted. According to the Kenyan daily newspaper the Star, the Kenyan Traffic Department reported that a total of 54 schoolchildren were killed in the Thika District in 2013. This number included children hit by cars and cyclists while crossing the roads to and from school as well as children who fell off motorcycles and bicycles during their commute to school.

Worldwide, pedestrians account for 35% of road injury deaths. In many developing regions, pedestrians account for an even greater share of road traffic deaths, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. The figure below shows the percentage of road injury deaths among different types of road users (pedestrians, cyclists, two-wheeled vehicles, and vehicles with three or more wheels). In Eastern and Central sub-Saharan Africa, pedestrians accounted for more than half of all road traffic deaths. In Western sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, Eastern Europe, and Andean Latin America, pedestrians made up around 40% of all road crash deaths.

Traffic 2

In Kenyan children ages 5 to 14 in 2010, the majority of road injury deaths, outlined in black in the screen grab below, occur in pedestrians. This is also the case in other African countries such as Nigeria, Tanzania, and South Africa (click on the hyperlinks to view the results online). In total, road injury deaths represented 4.5% of all deaths in children ages 5 to 14, which is similar to the amount caused by diarrhea (4.8% of total deaths).

Multiple international advocacy groups and international organizations who attended the launch this week are working to raise awareness about the global problem of road injury deaths, especially pedestrian deaths. For example, Make Roads Safe, a UK-based charity, is spearheading the “The Long Short Walk” campaign, which encourages individuals around the world to call for road safety to be included in the UN’s new Development Goals and to enable children to walk to school safely. Make Roads Safe endorses infrastructure enhancements to reduce pedestrian deaths, such as sidewalks, crossing points, speed bumps, and lowering speed limits along roads used by motorists and pedestrians.


Here’s a link to video presentations from the ODI event.

Katie Leach-Kemon, a weekly contributor of global health visual information posts for Humanosphere, is a policy translation specialist from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.


About Author

Katie Leach-Kemon

Katherine (Katie) Leach-Kemon is a policy translation specialist at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME). Katie specializes in two of IHME's research areas, the Global Burden of Disease and health financing. Katie has helped produce IHME's Financing Global Health report since it was first published in 2009. She received an MPH from the University of Washington and served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Niger. Her work has been published in The Lancet, Health Affairs, and the Journal of the American Medical Association. You can follow her on Twitter @kleachkemon.