Way to Go for Road Safety in China

BRASILIA – As the second Global High-Level Conference on Road Safety kicks off in Brazil’s capital until November 19, China can praise itself for its progress in the decrease of deaths on roads since 2001​, but there is a lot more to achieve.

Although Beijing passed most of the critical road safety legislation, namely drunk-driving, motorcycle helmet and seat-belt laws to foster a culture of safety, the world’s biggest auto market still counts over 250,000 road deaths a year (nearly 25% of all deaths worldwide), according to the “Global Status Report on Road Safety 2015” released by the World Health Organization in November 2015.

The reality is that road injuries are not an incurable ill. Government’s inaction is.

As China is going through rapid urbanization and hence motorization, this global epidemic is detrimental to its socio-economic development as it kills the most active section of society. It is the third leading cause of death.

Car accidents remain the major cause of death for Chinese under 45 whilst it targets youngsters only – 15 to 29 years old – globally, according to the WHO. In other words, Chinese under 45 are more likely to die from a car accident than suicide, HIV or malaria.

This global public health issue can only be solved domestically. There needs to be a coordination between different sectors of the government, such as the health and transport ministries.

First, the Chinese government has a critical role to play in communicating properly about the risks of not enforcing seat-belt wearing, speed limit, motorcycle helmet and drunk-driving laws.

Similarly, it has to shed light on the potentials of road safety in terms of health and development. In fact, economic losses related to road accidents amount to 3% to 5% of GDP in low- and middle-income nations like China – a critical loss.

To do so, Beijing has to provide relevant and accurate data on road crashes. The WHO numbers for China’s annual death tool in traffic accidents is more than four times the figures the Chinese government published.

The Chinese police indeed often under-reports figures on deaths on the road.

The point is to take into account all casualties, namely drivers, car passengers but also pedestrians and possibly security officers.

It is also critical that ministries within the Chinese government work jointly to check the standards of car manufacturers. It is not acceptable today that a car sold in the world’s largest country does not have all the safety features, such as proper seat belts for both adults and children.

If no government can prevent road accidents, they all can enhance their response to road crashes by making available an emergency phone number and training personal to attend to road victims as fast as possible.

Another simple measure is speed bumps next to schools.

Ultimately, coming to grips with traffic accidents has to do with much more than roads. Many lives could be saved in China if the government rethought the way cities plan transportation systems.

As Chinese streets and avenues are often clogged with cars, road casualties in Chinese cities are usually drivers but also car passengers and bike riders. Two-wheelers or pedestrians are the main victims in rural areas.

The future of China therefore is not about building and using more cars. Rather, it is about walking more and cycling more and safely.

This article was published in South China Morning Post on November 20, 2015. Link here and PDF here


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