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A fatal overnight crash in Winnipeg on March 29, 2008. (Joe Bryksa/Joe Bryksa/The Canadian Press)
A fatal overnight crash in Winnipeg on March 29, 2008. (Joe Bryksa/Joe Bryksa/The Canadian Press)

Better Driver

The car crash carnage crisis Add to ...

The World Health Organization estimates that each year more than 1.3 million people are killed in vehicle crashes - more than 3,000 a day.

That's why the United Nations has launched Time For Action: A Decade of Action For Road Safety; governments, agencies, organizations and private companies from more than 100 countries have expressed a commitment.

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WHO says more than half of the people killed in crashes are not travelling in a vehicle and that 20 million to 50 million more people sustain non-fatal injuries in these collisions. The UN agency says the annual economic consequences of this carnage are between 1 and 3 per cent of the GNP of the world countries, a total of more than $500-billion.

"There is growing awareness that the current road safety situation constitutes a crisis with devastating health, social and economic impacts that threaten the health and development gains achieved in the last half century," WHO says. "Current initiatives and levels of investment are inadequate to halt or reverse the predicted rise in road safety deaths."

WHO's planning document for A Decade of Action identifies five "pillars" to guide nations in the movement:

  1. Road Safety Management
  2. Infrastructure
  3. Safe Vehicles
  4. Road User behaviour
  5. Post-crash care

The UN General Assembly has said the goal for the program is "to stabilize and then reduce the forecast level of road traffic fatalities around the world by 2020."

As is the case in many areas, America tends to lead the way through its sheer size and presence. When it comes to highway and vehicle safety, it certainly sets the tone for what we do here in Canada. The two countries share similar vehicles, roads, rules and a partnership between federal and state or provincial governments.

One of the issues before Washington, Ottawa, and every other civilized nation is the carnage on highways around the globe. The number of people killed or injured in or by motor vehicles easily outdistances that from wars in foreign lands. Yet the funds and other resources allocated to reducing this carnage pales by comparison - and are at risk of being further reduced as cuts are made to address mounting deficits.

In a nation known worldwide for its resistance to government intervention in daily life, a recent poll by the AAA Foundation of Traffic Safety indicates a majority of Americans want additional laws and action by governments at all levels to improve highway safety.

"From passing and enforcing laws about teen drivers and distracted driving to programs that improve the safety of our roadways and add safety equipment to vehicles, there are many steps government can take to reduce crashes, injuries, and deaths in the U.S," the foundation says.

The survey found that 62 per cent of Americans want more laws to "prevent people from doing dangerous things while driving."

More than half (57 per cent) think their local state governments need to do more to make roads safer and 86 per cent feel new drivers should be required to complete a driver education course before being licensed. A majority of Americans feel governments and auto makers need to do more to make vehicles safer and 70 per cent say driving laws should be enforced more strictly.

A similar survey conducted here - when we're in the summer driving season, when highway crashes, deaths and injuries spike - would probably find that most Canadians would agree.

Halifax-based Richard Russell runs a driving school.

globedrive@globeandmail.com

Follow us on Twitter: @Globe_Drive

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