UN road safety week-reducing child road deaths in Asia

Road injury in children is a major global issue. By 2030 road traffic injuries will be the fifth leading cause of childhood death worldwide, and the seventh leading cause of Disability Adjusted Life Years lost. Worldwide road traffic injuries account for 23% all child deaths due to injury and rates of road traffic death are three times higher in developing countries than in developed countries.

Motorcycles accounted for nearly one half of total registered vehicles in low- and middle-income countries (49.6% and 45.8%) in 2010, while accounting for only 6.8% of total registered vehicles in high-income countries, indicating they are common transportation tools in low- and middle-income countries. India has the largest three wheeler market in the world as well as being one of the largest manufacturers of automobiles in Asia, with production doubling in the last four years. In China, according to the Statistical Yearbook of Road Traffic Crashes of China (2007-2013), the number of motorcycles increased from 89.7 million in 2006 to 109.1 million in 2012. There is also a rise in use of electric bikes in China with 90% of the global e-bike sales now in China.  

However, while being commonly used as an economical form of transport, motorcycles also confer a high risk of crash related injury or death. According to estimates from the Global Burden of Disease 2010, the global number of deaths from powered two-wheelers injury increased by 53%, between 1990 and 2010. The rate of non-fatal injury from electric bikes in China increased almost 4-fold and mortality 6-fold in the 7 year period from 2004-2010.

Led by Associate Professor Lisa Keay, researchers at the George Institute have recently completed work for the World Health Organisation on safety of motorcycles in low and middle income countries. The results have shown that motorcycle helmets are an effective means of reducing the risk, yet wearing rates remain low across China and India, and helmet quality remains a substantial challenge. This is particularly an issue for children, as standard helmets are not commonly available for children and many parts of the region.

Collaborator on the report Professor Guoqing Hu, from the Dept. of Epidemiology and Health Statistics, School of Public Health, Central South University, Changsha, China said “motorcycle related injury in children is a huge problem in China. Families should keep children off motorcycles until at least 8 years of age and should ensure they are always wearing securely buckled standard helmets, and protective clothing when travelling by motorcycle”.

Director of the Injury Division at the George Institute Professor Rebecca Ivers and Institute representative at the United National Road Safety Collaboration said “road injury in children causes immeasurable pain to families and communities, and Governments should ensure strong road safety legislation with appropriate enforcement and education campaigns to reduce the burden”

Preventing child deaths due to road injury is the focus of this year’s UN Global Road Safety week (website). The Third UN Global Road Safety Week - #SaveKidsLives - seeks to highlight the plight of children on the world’s roads and generate action to better ensure their safety.