U.N. agency urges stronger traffic laws

In Latin America and the Caribbean, over half of road traffic deaths occur among pedestrians, motorcyclists and bicyclists, according to a regional report on road safety published by the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization. The report warns that stronger traffic law enforcement is needed to reduce the number of road deaths and especially to protect vulnerable groups.

In the Americas, some 150,000 people died in 2010 as a result of traffic injuries. The health organization’s “Report on Road Safety in the Region of the Americas” notes that the risks faced by different types of road users differ significantly across subregions.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, 27 percent of road traffic deaths occur among pedestrians, 20 percent among motorcyclists and 3.7 percent among bicyclists. In North America, the highest proportion of deaths is among car occupants (70 percent), with pedestrians accounting for 12 percent of road deaths. In the Spanish-speaking Caribbean, 44 percent of road traffic deaths are among motorcyclists.

As motorcycles have become a more common form of transportation in the Americas, they have also grown as a road safety concern, the report notes. Motorcycle-related mortality rose significantly between 1998 and 2010 in all subregions.

“The challenge for the Americas is to have adequate public transportation policies to cope with the increased use of motorcycles and to ensure measures that will protect all vulnerable road users,” said Eugenia Rodrigues, the organiation’s regional advisor on road safety. “The region has made progress in terms of legislation in recent years, but there is still a lot that needs to be done.”

The regional report on road safety notes that 42 percent of the population in Latin America and the Caribbean is now protected by drinking-and-driving laws, but only five of the 14 countries with such laws consider their enforcement as good. The report also warns that laws on motorcycle helmet use have improved, but more efforts are needed to enforce those laws and to ensure that helmets meet quality standards.

The report also notes that policies that promote walking or biking must be accompanied by investments in public transportation systems to provide alternatives to motor vehicle transport and in particular to improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists.

The countries of the Americas in 2011 collectively adopted a regional road safety action plan that calls on countries to adapt their legislation to address the top five risk factors for road safety: speed, alcohol, helmet use, seat-belt use and child restraints.

The Third United Nations Global Road Safety Week, observed May 4 to 10, seeks to draw attention to the plight of children on the world’s roads and to spur action to better ensure their safety.

The health organization said it is joining the call for the adoption of 10 key strategies to ensure child safety on roads and streets: controlling speed, reducing drinking and driving, using helmets for bicyclists and motorcyclists, restraining children in vehicles, improving children’s ability to see and be seen, enhancing road infrastructure, adapting vehicle design, reducing risks for young drivers, providing appropriate care for injured children, and supervising children around streets and roads.

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