I was stuck. Standing on a street corner, I found it impossible to cross to the other side. No crosswalks. No lights to stop the traffic. With cars, trucks, motorcycles, scooters, bikes, pedestrians, dogs and chickens filling every available space on the road, there simply was not a safe path across. Getting into a taxi didn’t improve my safety situation. As the driver entered the darting traffic, I reached to buckle the safety belt – and found none. Fighting to steady myself in the careening vehicle, I contemplated getting another cab, but thought it a wiser choice to stay silent as to ensure my driver’s eyes and focus remained on the heaving roadway before us.
After that experience in an otherwise charming Quzhou, China, I’m not surprised that the No. 1 cause of death for healthy U.S. citizens who travel abroad is traffic crashes. They are among the 1.3 million people who die each year on the world’s roads. In his forward for the Commission for Global Road Safety’s Decade of Action Report, Reverend Desmond Tutu wrote, when you “add together the daily toll in each neighborhood or city, each country and region, we can comprehend the true tragedy” represented in that number. Responding to the alarming rate of road traffic injuries, in March the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution declaring the next ten years the “Decade of Action for Road Safety.” The resolution calls on UN member states to strengthen their commitment to improving road safety and reducing traffic injuries.
CDC helps our partners worldwide by providing technical assistance and training as well as the tools and support to increase awareness of the problem of road traffic injuries. Of course, while we are called to collaborate with our global partners, we remain committed to our motor vehicle safety work here in the United States, where more than 3 million people are treated in emergency departments for crash-related injuries each year and nearly 40,000 die as a result of their injuries.
Sharing and comparing information globally offers us a template on improving safety among our 50 states. Take safety belt use. Nationwide, safety belt use is 84 percent. However, the proportion that chooses to use safety belts varies by state (67% to 98%).
When I chose to stay in the cab without safety belts, I probably made the wrong choice for safety. Of course, where I live, that choice would already have been made; safety belts are required in taxis in the United States. Perhaps the Decade of Action for Road Safety is the time to examine some of the choices we make within our borders. We can reduce injuries and death from traffic crashes and keep people safe on the road, everyday. Let’s choose to fight that battle and win.