By Vice Chairman T. Bella Dinh-Zarr, PhD, MPH
Today marks the 20th Anniversary of the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims. On the third Sunday of November each year, we pause to remember all the lives lost on our roads, as well as the families affected by road tragedies and all the emergency responders who rush to the scene. Working for an agency whose mission is to investigate highway crashes, work with victims’ families, and recommend changes to prevent such tragedies, this day has special significance for me and all my fellow NTSB colleagues.
Road crashes are still the leading cause of death globally. More than 1.2 million people die each year on our world’s roads and between 20-50 million sustain non-fatal injuries. Young adults, ages 15-44, account for nearly 60% of those deaths. Unfortunately, these numbers have stayed fairly constant since 2007.
Before coming to the NTSB, I served as the U.S. Director and Road Safety Director of the FIA Foundation. In that role, I took an active role in promoting the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety, a plan to combat road deaths that the UN General Assembly adopted as part of a resolution in 2010. Having worked to implement this plan and now serving as Vice Chairman at NTSB, I am saddened by these numbers because I know many of these deaths are preventable.
Thousands of lives could be saved if we address issues such as speeding, impaired driving, non-use of seat belts and child restraints, non-use of motorcycle helmets, and cell phone use habits. The NTSB works daily to address most all of these issues through our advocacy campaigns.
And while drug- and alcohol-impaired, distracted and speeding drivers are often the cause of crashes on our roadways, I want to remind people that the greatest defense to preventing highway deaths is simply using a seat belt or child restraint. In 2013, more than 30,000 people died in motor vehicle crashes on US highways. In nearly half of those deaths, where restraint status was known, people were not restrained. Even more tragic, nearly half of all children killed in crashes each year are unrestrained.
When used correctly, child safety seats can reduce fatal injury by 71 percent for infants (under 1 year old) and by 54 percent for toddlers (1 to 4 years old) in passenger cars. And lap/shoulder seat belts, when used, reduce the risk of fatal injury to front seat occupants (age 5 and older) of passenger cars by 45 percent and the risk of moderate-to-critical injury by 50 percent. Our children are our most precious cargo and they look to us to keep them safe. Just this week, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety issued new ratings for boosters that make it easier for us to choose the appropriate seat for our children when they are not quite ready for an adult seat belt, and their latest ratings show that manufacturers are providing seats that keep them safe.
This day is about remembering the victims, those who died or were injured on our roads. But we must also remember the families who must deal with the unfortunate results of these tragedies. If we have not been impacted directly by a road tragedy, we certainly know someone who has been. Every fatal crash causes ripples of grief and loss, often wide ranging, and sometimes lifelong. For those injured, those injuries can be debilitating and long-lasting, and emotional as well as physical.
On this day of remembrance, I urge us all to honor the victims and their families by being an advocate for road safety.