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Road Traffic Injuries and Deaths—A Global Problem

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Road traffic crashes are a leading cause of death in the United States for people aged 1–54,1 and they are the leading cause of nonnatural death for U.S. citizens residing or traveling abroad.23

Throughout the world, roads are shared by cars, buses, trucks, motorcycles, mopeds, pedestrians, animals, taxis, and other travelers. Travel made possible by motor vehicles supports economic and social development in many countries. Yet each year, vehicles are involved in crashes that are responsible for millions of deaths and injuries.

Whether you’re on the road at home or abroad, know the risks and take steps to protect your health and safety.

  • Each year, 1.35 million people are killed on roadways around the world.4
  • Every day, almost 3,700 people are killed globally in crashes involving cars, buses, motorcycles, bicycles, trucks, or pedestrians. More than half of those killed are pedestrians, motorcyclists, or cyclists.4
  • Crash injuries are estimated to be the eighth leading cause of death globally for all age groups and the leading cause of death for children and young people 5–29 years of age. More people now die in crashes than from HIV/AIDS.4
  • It is estimated that fatal and nonfatal crash injuries will cost the world economy approximately $1.8 trillion dollarsexternal icon (in 2010 USD) from 2015–2030.5 That’s equivalent to a yearly tax of 0.12% on global GDP (gross domestic product).5

Low- and Middle-Income Countries (LMICs) Are Most Affected

  • The crash death rate is over three times higher in low-income countries than in high-income countries.4
  • There were no reductions in the number of crash deaths in any low-income country from 2013 to 2016.4
  • LMICs only account for 60 percent of the world’s registered vehicles but more than 90 percent of the world’s crash deaths.4
  • Crash injuries place a major economic burden on LMICs.6,7 It is estimated that LMICs will experience approximately $834 billion dollars (in 2010 USD) in economic losses from 2015–2030 due to fatal and nonfatal crash injuries.5

Steps for Road Safety at Home and Abroad

Motor vehicle crashes are a public health concern both in the United States and abroad. These injuries and deaths are preventable. Whether you are a driver, passenger, cyclist, or pedestrian, take the following steps to stay safe on the road2:

  • Always use a seat belt on every trip, no matter how short. Be sure to buckle up whether you are in the front seat or the back seat of the vehicle.
  • Make sure children are always properly buckled in a car seat, booster seat, or seat belt that is appropriate for their age, height, and weight, and ensure they are buckled in the back seat of the vehicle.
  • Always wear a helmet when driving or riding on motorcycles, motorbikes, or bicycles.
  • Do not drive while impaired by alcohol or drugs, and avoid riding with a driver who is impaired.
  • Obey speed limits.
  • Drive without distractions. For example, don’t use a phone to text, email, or access social media while driving.
  • Be alert when crossing streets, especially in countries where motorists drive on the left side of the road.
  • Ride only in marked taxis, and try to ride in taxis that have seat belts.
  • Avoid riding in overcrowded, overweight, or top-heavy buses or minivans.
  • Check the Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT)external icon website for information about driving hazards and road safety risks by country.
  • Visit the country information pageexternal icon on the U.S. Department of State website for more information about road safety, overall safety, and security in every country of the world.
  • World Health Organization (WHO). Peden M, Scurfield R, Sleet D, Mohan D, Hyder AA, Jarawan E, Mathers C. World report on road traffic injury prevention. 2004. [cited 2020 October 28]. Available from URL: icon