Greater Safety for Children

24 Apr 2019 News & Campaigns

Because children lack experience, have not developed a proper awareness of the risks, and often exhibit immature behavior, they are among the most vulnerable road users. When an accident occurs, the consequences are often especially severe because of the increased vulnerability of children. In many parts of the world, the number of children under the age of 15 – who are the focus of this report – killed in road traffic is decreasing more or less steadily. In other parts of the world, the number remains high or is even increasing. No matter where in the world, the challenge to improve the safety of children permanently with the appropriate measures continues to be great.

Boy run over by car, girl struck by bus while crossing the street, man runs over child while driving off, and many more headlines. From time to time, news reports like these shake us up and highlight the great dangers to which children are exposed in road traffic. All over the world. The numbers speak clearly: According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 186,000 children and adolescents aged 19 years or less die each year in traffic accidents – over 500 per day and thus 20 each hour. Most of them are killed as pedestrians or vehicle occupants.
In its 2018 annual report “Global Action for Healthy Streets”, the FIA Foundation (FIA = Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile) even estimates that 249,000 children and adolescents were killed in road traffic – which would be almost 700 every day. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington has also found that for every child killed in road traffic, there are four additional children that are permanently disabled and ten that are seriously injured.
If one limits the number of young road fatalities to children under the age of 15, who are the focus of this report, according to the IHME, with nearly 112,000 deaths, they account for just under 60 percent of the 186,000 children and adolescents killed in road traffic mentioned above. Globally, road accidents were the most common cause of death for the age group of 5- to 14-year-olds (8.5 percent) in 2017.
Typhoid fever and malaria (just under eight and 7.5 percent respectively) followed in second and third place. In this context, it is interesting to consider these figures for individual regions. For example, in the European Union road accidents also accounted for the largest percentage of all deaths of children 5 to 14 years old in 2017 (12.7 percent), followed by tumors of the central nervous system (10.2 percent) and congenital diseases (8.8 percent). Also in the USA, road accidents were the most common cause of death for 5- to 14-year-olds in 2017 – no less than 18 percent. Death from congenital diseases and violent attacks, each at approximately seven percent, followed in a distant second and third place. In China, drowning was the leading cause of death in this age group in 2017 (25 percent), while traffic accidents accounted for almost 17 percent of deaths. In Africa, traffic accidents came third with 7.3 percent, after HIV (14.5 percent) and malaria (13.8 percent).
All of these are alarming numbers that at the same time highlight the high risk to which children and adolescents are exposed in road traffic. If we base the figures for children and adolescents below the age of 15 on all traffic fatalities worldwide – in their “Global Status Report on Road Safety 2018”, the WHO writes that the number has risen from 1.25 million to 1.35 million since the 2015 Report – they account for 8.25 percent. According to the IHME, nearly 85 percent of children under the age of 15 killed in traffic accidents come from low- and middle-income countries. This proportion is comparable across all age groups.
In view of the continuing high risk of children being killed or seriously injured in road traffic in many parts of the world, a number of years ago the WHO adopted ten strategies to improve the safety of the youngest road users as part of the United Nations’ “Global Plan for the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020”. For example, the “Ten Strategies for Keeping Children Safe on the Road” include:
  • Speed: Speed limits of 30 km/h on roads with a high density of pedestrian and bicycle traffic as well as high crossing requirements, as in front of schools and pre-school facilities, enforcement of speed limits by using automatic speed cameras, road construction measures to reduce speed.
  • Driving under the influence: Legal requirements for maximum blood alcohol content while driving (basically 0.05% for everybody and 0.02% for young drivers), enforcement of legal requirements through random checks with breathalyzers, installation of ignition interlock systems in vehicles of persons who have ever been convicted of driving under the influence.
  • Bicycle and motorcycle helmets: Regulation and enforcement of laws for motorcycle helmets that determine the type and fit according to the age of the wearer, support for initiatives that inform parents about the use of motorcycle and bicycle helmets and provide free or discounted helmets for children.
  • Child restraint systems in vehicles: Legal requirement to secure children in appropriate restraint systems in all private vehicles, obligation for vehicle manufacturers to provide plug-in attachments for child restraint systems in all private vehicles (such as ISOFIX anchorage systems), educating parents about the proper use of child restraint systems.
  • Visibility: Wearing high-contrast clothing, use of reflective strips on clothing or objects such as backpacks, equipping bicycles with front and rear lights as well as front, back, and wheel reflectors, improvement of street lighting.
  • Road infrastructure: Separation of different types of traffic and road users through measures such as pedestrian walkways, special pedestrian and cyclist lanes, or center barriers to separate the incoming vehicle traffic, creation of pedestrian zones to increase the safety of pedestrians, extension of the green phase for pedestrians at traffic lights near schools and pre-school facilities, increased investment in local public transport.
  • Vehicles: Energy-absorbing crumple zones to protect vehicle occupants, design of pedestrian-friendly vehicle front ends, equipping vehicles with cameras and audible alarm systems to detect objects that may not be visible in the rear view mirror.
  • Emergency care: Equipping emergency vehicles with medical equipment and materials suitable for children, “child-friendly” design of hospitals to minimize additional trauma to child accident victims, better access to counseling centers to mitigate the psychological consequences of road accidents on children and their families.