Road Traffic Accidents and Public Health

Road Traffic Accidents and Public Health

By Dr Muhammad Shakir Balogun

When people think of road traffic accidents (RTA), they only think in terms of the worst outcome – death. But, the truth is, for every fatal accident, there are several others resulting in injuries, disabilities and damage to property. In fact, for the 1.3 million lives lost every year globally to road crashes, 50 million people sustain injuries of varying severity -  this is indeed a huge toll on health and development. So, even when life is not lost, quality of life may be severely affected. In short, road traffic accidents cause huge human and economic losses that they deserve a concerted comprehensive approach. The economic loss to developing countries has been estimated at $100 billion yearly.

To cap it all, the vast majority of road casualties – out of which 90% occur in developing countries – are preventable. There is an opportunity to save life and limb which must be exploited. Sadly, this an often-neglected aspect of public health. Leading road safety experts believe that, with the right action, up to 5 million lives could be saved and 50 million injuries prevented during the Decade of Action (2011-2020). This would represent a reduction of about 50% on the predicted global death toll by 2020.

As an epidemiologist and a very frequent road user, I have observed that we do pay enough attention to the causes and consequences, nor do we employ a data-driven scientific approach to prevention and control. The third Global Status Report on Road Safety, 2015, published by the World Health. They are the leading cause of death among young people aged between 15 and 29 years, and cost governments approximately 3% of GDP.

The same report also shows that low and middle-income countries are hardest hit, with double the fatality rates of high-income countries and 90% of global road traffic deaths. Vulnerable road users i.e. pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists account for half of these deaths. Low income countries are also the least capable of dealing with the medical and economic consequences of RTAs.

What do we need to do as government and individuals?

In Nigeria, we need more than the good work FRSC is doing. We need a lot more. It has to be a multi-sectoral collaboration involving education, health, works, transport, police, justice. The overall governance or such a concerted action must be informed by a public health and social equity framework in synergy with safety policies and legislation. Actions must be focused on the road users (motorists, cyclists and pedestrians) in terms of imparting knowledge, promoting attitudes, and ensuring practices that improve road safety; the roads, with respect to design (including signage) and maintenance; and the vehicles regarding design and maintenance. Above all, the existing road safety laws must be enforced and new laws enacted. In Abuja, the Federal Capital, several times every day, I see people dangerously beating the lights with impunity. The traffic lights are not enough, we need CCTV cameras to monitor them and identify infractions and exact penalties. Beyond prevention, response to road crashes must also be significantly improved especially the swiftness with which victims are evacuated for medical attention and the competence of emergency and other health workers to give optimal emergency care within the golden period and hence reduce morbidity and disability.

This is essentially to draw our attention to a serious public health problem in Nigeria and give an outline of what we need to do to stem the tide. Specific aspects will be addressed in greater detail in subsequent write-ups. Meanwhile, wear your crash helmets, strap your seat-belts and keep an eye on the speedometer.


Dr. Muhammad Shakir Balogun is a Resident Advisor, Frontline for the Nigeria Field Epidemiology & laboratory Training Programme, Abuja


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There is 1 comment for this article
  1. Usman Adekanye at 9:33 AM

    Very true indeed! As a matter of fact, if the victim of a fatal accident is the bread winner, the dependents risk going into poverty. The concern now shifts to the effect of poverty on nutrition, education and general well being contributing to the already strained standard of living in Nigeria.

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