WHO: U.S. among countries needing tougher laws to improve road safety

By Dan Handel

The U.S. is among the countries that need tougher traffic laws if we hope to reach the World Health Organization’s goal of halving the 1.25 million annual traffic deaths world-wide by 2020. The WHO argues that these deaths—49 percent of which occur among pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists—are preventable if countries follow a set of best practices regarding transportation.

Outlined in their Global Status Report on Road Safety 2015, these best practices include:

  • Maximum urban speed limits less than or equal to 50 km/h (about 31 mph)
  • Maximum blood alcohol content of 0.05 g/dL for drivers
  • A comprehensive helmet law that applies to all motorcycle riders and a quality standard for helmets
  • A comprehensive seat belt law that applies to all occupants in the vehicle
  • Child restraint legislation requiring child restraints based on age, weight, or height, and a restriction on children sitting in the front seat

The report notes that while the U.S. has policies promoting walking, bicycling, and transit use, the report notes that we do not require formal safety audits with consideration for all modes in new road construction projects, do not perform regular safety inspections of existing road infrastructure, and do not have policies to separate transportation modes. While some states have motorcycle helmet laws, many do not, and no state has a maximum speed limit for urban areas or a BAC requirement as low as the WHO recommendation.

“We’re moving in the right direction,” says Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of WHO. “The report shows that road safety strategies are saving lives. But it also tells us that the pace of change is too slow.”

Dan Handel is a Graduate Assistant at SSTI.