Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock

The burden of harm on our roads is unmistakable. Every year, an estimated 1.25 million people are killed in road traffic crashes around the world. Tens of millions more are injured. Nine out of ten deaths on the roads happen in low- and middle-income countries, and younger people are more often among the lives lost.

While drink driving, not wearing a seat belt or failing to wear a motorcycle helmet result in many of these crashes, there is one factor at the core of the road traffic injury burden – speed.

Up to one in three road traffic deaths occurs because of speed. It is clear that the higher the speed at which a motor vehicle is traveling, the greater the chance of having a road traffic crash and the higher the extent of harm experienced as a result.

Research indicates that many people mistakenly believe that it is safe to drive over the speed limit

Research indicates that many people mistakenly believe that it is safe to drive over the speed limit. But the fact is that each kilometer per hour over the limit increases the time and distance it takes to stop, making the situation more dangerous for the driver and for all other road users.

This critical road safety behavior of speeding is the focus of the 4th United Nations Global Road Safety Week, being held from May 8-14 . The week aims to raise awareness of the harms associated with speeding and to encourage comprehensive implementation of measures to reduce speeding on our roads.

The UN is focusing on key proven ways to make roads safer by managing speed.

They include four key domains:

Safer roads: Building roads to include traffic-calming features such as speed bumps and roundabouts that can slow down traffic.

Safer speeds: Establishing safe speed limits and implementing proper enforcement of these limits is vital to ensure they are being complied with and drivers are slowing down. Police patrols and speed detection cameras play an important role.

Safer vehicles: Installing technology in vehicles such as emergency braking systems can help drivers avoid collisions by automatically slowing the vehicle down in a potential crash situation.

Safer road users: Drivers, pedestrians and other road users who are better informed about the dangers of speeding can change their behavior to slow down and lower their risk of harm. Drivers who believe their chances of crashing are increased if they speed, as well as their chances of being detected and punished, are more likely to change their driving behavior and slow down.

It is particularly in this area of influencing driver behavior that Vital Strategies is working closely with international and city law enforcement and city design partners through the Bloomberg Initiative for Global Road Safety. Through the initiative, Vital Strategies is partnering to conduct road safety campaigns in cities such as Shanghai, Ho Chi Minh City, Bangkok, Bandung and Mumbai.

While these campaigns have so far reached drivers and passengers through television, radio and social media to encourage proper helmet wearing and to reduce drink driving, planning is now underway to develop campaigns addressing the critical area of speeding behavior.

Vital Strategies has undertaken a multi-country research study in China, Russia, Turkey and Kenya examining responses to a series of television advertisements designed to reduce speeding. Key lessons from this study, including particular challenges in influencing perceptions of risk from speeding among young male drivers, will be incorporated in future campaigns. The 4th United Nations Global Road Safety Week and its focus on this central role of speeding in road crashes, injuries and lives lost will provide a valuable global call to action for drivers to “Save lives, slow down.”

Dr. Tom Carroll is a psychologist with more than thirty years’ experience in public health social marketing in Australia and the Asia-Pacific region. Based in Sydney, he is a consultant and senior advisor on policy and communications, with global public health organization, Vital Strategies, and regional lead for the organization's tobacco and road safety programs in South-East Asia. He is an Adjunct Professor at the University of Sydney and was previously senior advisor on social marketing and research to the Australian Department of Health.