Road safety: Making roads healthy

European Conference of Ministers of Transport

Click to enlarge.

Road crashes are a major health issue. The ECMT has set a goal of halving the number of deaths on the roads in its member countries by 2012. A serious challenge. 

Every year, 1.2 million people are killed worldwide as a result of road accidents and up to 50 million more are injured. Most of these are in non-OECD countries, but no one can feel complacent. In Europe, more than 100,000 people die, while a further 2 million people are injured. Road accidents are the principal cause of death for young men under 25.

Nor do road accidents come cheap. There are high costs in terms of lost productive capacity and human capital, be it for fatalities or injuries. Add to this the medical and non-medical rehabilitation expenses. Some costs are less obvious: broken families, the loss of a wage-earner, even the cost of counselling. And of course, damage to property has to be paid for. Some estimates put the total economic loss resulting from road deaths and injuries at a remarkable 2-3% of GDP in OECD countries.

This makes road safety a serious public health issue. So much so that the World Health Organization made road safety the theme of this year’s World Health Day on 7 April. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan seized on this opportunity to remind people that road traffic injuries can be prevented, but only with deliberate action from many sectors of society, including transport, education, health and law enforcement. He cited France, historically one of the worst countries in Europe for road fatalities, as an example of what can be achieved. Since 2002, road safety has been tightened and the number of road traffic deaths has been cut by 20%.

This is an encouraging decline, and the European Conference of Ministers of Transport (ECMT) is taking a lead to ensure such progress continues. For many years the ECMT has worked towards cutting down on the number of road accidents by publishing comparative data, by making governments aware of best practice and by drawing up recommendations for action.

To this effect, the ECMT Council of Ministers unanimously agreed to set a target in 2002 to cut the number of road deaths by 50% by the year 2012. This is a laudable, though highly ambitious, goal, in view of discouraging trends in some countries, particularly Russia.

Each country has to define its own strategy to reach this goal. It will require cooperation from players across the spectrum, from those involved with policing and legislation, to public awareness and innovative technologies. To set this cooperation in motion and to make it work, a political commitment from the very highest level is vital. In fact, the improvement in France can be traced to just such a commitment, from President Jacques Chirac.

A checklist of the measures needed to reach the goal of halving fatalities will be presented at the next ECMT Council of Ministers meeting in Ljubljana on 26-27 May. These measures are grouped under three main themes: expanding the awareness and the involvement of the public/community; promoting the importance of reliable data, particularly in the field of research; and providing finance and management. Road safety programmes do not have to be expensive to be efficient. In fact, there are cost-effective tools available that can make a serious difference, such as a gradual introduction to driving; penalty points systems; random breathtesting for alcohol; and even clearer road marking, to list just a few.

Every year a survey will assess progress. Data will be gathered, lessons learned and experiences shared. In this way we will show that, while the car may be essential in our lives, road deaths are not a fatality.

* The ECMT, established in 1953, is an intergovernmental organisation grouping 43 European member countries, 7 associate countries and 1 observer country. It is a forum in which ministers responsible for transport, particularly the inland transport sector, can discuss current problems, co-operate on policy and agree on joint approaches aimed at improving and developing European transport systems.


ECMT (2003), Road Safety: Impact of New Technologies, OECD, Paris.

ECMT (2002), Safety on Roads: What’s the Vision?, OECD, Paris.

For more on road safety and other work from ECMT, click here or contact Martine-Sophie Fouvez

©OECD Observer No 243, May 2004 

Economic data


Stay up-to-date with the latest news from the OECD by signing up for our e-newsletter :

Twitter feed

Suscribe now

<b>Subscribe now!</b>

To receive your exclusive paper editions delivered to you directly

Online edition
Previous editions

Don't miss

  • Globalisation’s many benefits have been unequally shared, and public policy has struggled to keep up with a rapidly-shifting world. The OECD is working alongside governments and international organisations to help improve and harness the gains while tackling the root causes of inequality, and ensuring a level playing field globally. Please watch.
  • Read some of the insightful remarks made at OECD Forum 2017, held on 6-7 June. OECD Forum kick-started events with a focus on inclusive growth, digitalisation, and trust, under the overall theme of Bridging Divides.
  • Checking out the job situation with the OECD scoreboard of labour market performances: do you want to know how your country compares with neighbours and competitors on income levels or employment?
  • Trade is an important point of focus in today’s international economy. This video presents facts and statistics from OECD’s most recent publications on this topic.
  • How do the largest community of British expats living in Spain feel about Brexit? Britons living in Orihuela Costa, Alicante give their views.
  • Brexit is taking up Europe's energy and focus, according to OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría. Watch video.
  • OECD Chief Economist Catherine Mann and former Bank of England Governor Mervyn King discuss the economic merits of a US border adjustment tax and the outlook for US economic growth.
  • Africa's cities at the forefront of progress: Africa is urbanising at a historically rapid pace coupled with an unprecedented demographic boom. By 2050, about 56% of Africans are expected to live in cities. This poses major policy challenges, but make no mistake: Africa’s cities and towns are engines of progress that, if harnessed correctly, can fuel the entire continent’s sustainable development.
  • OECD Observer i-Sheet Series: OECD Observer i-Sheets are smart contents pages on major issues and events. Use them to find current or recent articles, video, books and working papers. To browse on paper and read on line, or simply download.
  • How sustainable is the ocean as a source of economic development? The Ocean Economy in 2030 examines the risks and uncertainties surrounding the future development of ocean industries, the innovations required in science and technology to support their progress, their potential contribution to green growth and some of the implications for ocean management.
  • The OECD Gender Initiative examines existing barriers to gender equality in education, employment, and entrepreneurship. The gender portal monitors the progress made by governments to promote gender equality in both OECD and non-OECD countries and provides good practices based on analytical tools and reliable data.
  • They are green and local --It’s a new generation of entrepreneurs in Kenya with big dreams of sustainable energy and the drive to see their innovative technologies throughout Africa.
  • Interested in a career in Paris at the OECD? The OECD is a major international organisation, with a mission to build better policies for better lives. With our hub based in one of the world's global cities and offices across continents, find out more at .

Most Popular Articles

OECD Insights Blog

NOTE: All signed articles in the OECD Observer express the opinions of the authors
and do not necessarily represent the official views of OECD member countries.

All rights reserved. OECD 2017