The chance of dying in a traffic crash is almost ten times higher in South Africa than it is in the United Kingdom. This doesn’t mean that emerging economies, where 90 percent of the road casualties in the world occur, are the only ones that could do better on road safety. In fact, the chance of dying in a crash in the United States is more than three times higher than it is in the United Kingdom. Each year, traffic crashes kill almost 1.3 million people and injure an additional 50 million; they are the second leading cause of death among children and cost the global economy around $518 billion.
And the problem is expected to get worse. Total annual fatalities from crashes are expected to approach 2 million by 2020. To try to reverse this trend, the United Nations—working with the World Health Organization and the World Bank—has called for a “Decade of Action for Road Safety,” aiming to halve the number of deaths from their current levels by 2020. If this goal is achieved, about 5 million lives will be saved and 50 million injuries will be prevented over the course of the decade.
We have developed a novel, end-to-end approach to help national and municipal governments and policy makers (such as transportation ministers and mayors) identify the solutions that will save the most lives in the most cost-effective manner. The heart of the approach is a “road-safety cost curve” that makes it possible to compare different countermeasures by their anticipated impact and costs. We have also cataloged more than 200 road-safety countermeasures based on our research of academic and corporate literature. This methodology is similar to the approach successfully used to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, address global and national water scarcity, incorporate adaptation measures into economic-development strategies, and deal with obesity and smoking reduction in public-health policy. By using a consistent methodology to evaluate all possible countermeasures, policy makers have a much clearer basis for budget-allocation decisions.