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Make Walking Safe, A Message for Global Road Safety Week (May 6-12)

By Dr Etienne Krug, Director, Department of Violence and Injury Prevention and Disability World Health Organization

We are all pedestrians: on any given day we begin and end most trips on foot. Those trips should be safe. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. As shown in the recently released WHO Global status report on road safety 2013, more than 270,000 pedestrians lose their lives on the world’s roads each year, comprising 22% of all the annual 1.24 million road traffic deaths.

That is unacceptable—especially because walking offers so many rewards, from health benefits to reducing our impact on the environment. Walking requires no fare, no fuel, no license and no registration. It is also an integral part of the livability and sustainability of our communities.

A newly released publication produced by WHO and partners, Pedestrian safety: a road safety manual for decision-makers and practitioners, highlights many of the measures urgently needed to better protect pedestrians. These include:• Adopting and enforcing new and existing laws to reduce speeding and curb drinking and driving; • Putting in place infrastructure such as sidewalks, raised crosswalks, refuge islands, speed bumps, rumble strips and roadway lighting; • Improving mass transit route design; and • Enhancing trauma care systems to guarantee the prompt treatment of those with life-threatening injuries.

These actions are among those promoted and supported in countries through the Bloomberg Philanthropies Global Road Safety Program.

Governments, at both the national and municipal levels, which have taken the concrete actions described above, have shown progress in saving pedestrian lives. From New Delhi to New York City and from Abu Dhabi to Cape Town, a combined focus on enforcement, engineering and education has shown clear results. Given that we know what works to protect pedestrian lives and make walking safe, it is the duty of governments around the world to take urgent action.

And this week, the public sector, private sector and NGOs are coming together to spread the message that more investment must be made to keep pedestrians safe around the world.

Under the banner “Make Walking Safe”, the Second UN Global Road Safety Week is being celebrated worldwide beginning May 6, 2013. The Week offers a unique opportunity to draw attention to the needs of pedestrians, spur action to protect them, and contribute to achieving the goal of the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020 of saving 5 million lives. Hundreds of events will take place in around 100 countries, led by governments and private organizations, including pedestrian associations and businesses. Events include high-level national policy discussions, radio and television debates, public walks and concrete actions such as repainting pedestrian crossings and enhancing safe routes to school.

As the world – especially urban areas in developing countries – continues to develop at a rapid pace, we need to look afresh at the ways in which we design and transform our transport systems and built environments in order to make them healthier and sustainable. Such a change in mindset requires a clear and long-term vision and political commitment at the highest levels. Walking must be a safe, convenient and pleasant option for most trips. This Week dedicated to pedestrian safety and the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020 gives us the platform and framework for ensuring that this vision becomes a reality. Let us not miss this golden opportunity.