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Today, 18 November 2012, is the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims. In a resolution adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in October 2005, it was decided that the 3rd Sunday in November should be set aside as a day of remembrance for those who had died from road traffic accidents, and to draw the public’s attention to the horror of these accidents, their cost (at various levels) and steps to prevent these tragedies.

Worldwide, sights like this next to the road, small shrines of remembrance for those who have died, highlight the horror of road accidents. This sign next to a road in South Africa reads “Will always remember you, with love”.
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Almost 1.3 million people are killed in road accidents each year – drivers, passengers and pedestrians. 50 million more are injured or disabled as a result of these accidents. They are the leading global cause of death among young people in the 15-29 age category. Of course road accidents not only impact on the direct victims, but also the relatives of these victims, who have to deal with the sudden, unexpected and brutal death or disability of loved ones, and cope with the practical and emotional consequences.

Interestingly, more than 90% of the annual road fatalities occur in low and middle income countries, despite these countries having less than half of the world’s vehicles. Almost half of these deaths are among the so-called ‘vulnarable road users’ – pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists. It is predicted that, without serious intervention, the annual road traffic death toll will rise to 1.9 million in 2020.

The above facts highlight many key problems causing road accidents, particularly in developing countries – unsafe, non-roadworthy vehicles, inadequate road conditions, and importantly, a lack of road traffic traffic law enforcement. It is estimated that only 15% of the world’s countries have comprehensive laws covering the main road traffic risk areas – speeding, drunk driving, use of motorcycle and bicycle helmets, seat-belts and child restraints. These are issues that need serious attention, particularly given the population growth, and rapid urbanisation in the developing world, making lack of road safety an accident waiting to happen (excuse the pun).

In the developed world, many of the above problems are adequately addressed, and most road accidents are caused by driver behaviour – speeding, inadequate following distances, risky overtaking etc. Irresponsible driver behaviour is a major personal bugbear for me – looking at the way people drive, and the chances they take, simply because they’re late, or in a hurry, or just generally inconsiderate pigs, one cannot help but question the intelligence of these people who put their daily rushed lived ahead of their, and others’, safety.  And of course, sadly, it often isn’t the offender who ends up dead or maimed for life, but rather his/her innocent fellow road users.

Another sad roadside reminder.
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Together with the World Health Organisation (WHO), many governmental and civil organisations worldwide contribute to awareness creation initiatives related to road safety. Some of the main international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) actively involved and doing commendable work in this area include RoadPeace, the Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT) and the European Federation of Road Traffic Victims (FEVR). In recognition of the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims, the WHO, FEVR and RoadPeace have developed a World Day of Remembrace Guide for Organisers, which offers a range of ideas and suggestions for events that can be organised on this day, and support mechanisms that organisers can call on. It is hoped that the guide will help in spreading the message and supporting global advocacy regarding road safety.

If you have been directly or indirectly affected by a road accidents, this day is especially for you. But even if you’re just a road user, as a driver, passenger or pedestrian, this day is for you too – get involved, be aware, and be safe. Safe travels, everyone!

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