Leipzig. When we address the issue of road traffic and safety, how much are young people taken into account? According to a new report, around 350,000 children and adolescents around the world die each year due to road crashes and health issues caused by air pollution, yet road traffic is one of the most neglected issues affecting the health and well-being of young people.
Titled "Unfinished Journey: The Global Health Response to Children & Road Traffic," the report was released on Monday (21/05) at the World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland. The Child Health Initiative, which is a coalition of international organizations helmed by the London-based FIA Foundation, wrote the report.
Findings show that each year, 227,000 children and adolescents aged 0-19 die as a result of road traffic injury. Such injuries are now also the fifth leading cause of death for children aged 5-14 years old.
However, the report argues that the headline figures of child deaths caused by road traffic are just the tip of the iceberg.
Outdoor air pollution leads to respiratory illnesses including pneumonia and asthma, as well as heart diseases. Around 127,000 children under 5-years-old die every year and two billion of them still live in areas breaching WHO’s air quality guidelines.
Traffic problems are also linked to unhealthy lifestyles. The report cited Rothman et al’s research in 2015, stating that in places where traffic dominates the streets, parents discourage children from walking or cycling.
If that behavior continues into adulthood, it is a risk factor for a rise in obesity and other non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as heart disease, colon and breast cancers, diabetes and depression. Apart from the fact that obesity has increased tenfold globally since the 1970s, the WHO has also estimated that about 3 million deaths each year are linked to physical inactivity.
Southeast Asian Children Remain Vulnerable
The report cited WHO’s 2015 findings that over 95 percent of children who died or got injured in road accidents came from lower and middle income countries.
The report also pointed out that Southeast Asia is the second-most vulnerable region in the world, after sub-Saharan Africa, where 70-90 percent of children walk to schools but only 10 percent of the roads have sidewalks.
In the case of Indonesia, the WHO revealed in the Global Status Report on Road Safety 2013 that the overall death rate for Indonesia was at 31,234, though the real figure was predicted to be at 47,673. In the 2015 edition of the report, the country ranked fifth for the highest number of road crashes.
Indonesian Transportation Ministry research and development staff member Arif Anwar told reporters on Thursday that one of the programs to ensure safety for young people is the School Safe Routes (RASS), introduced in 2016. The ministry aids cities to set up facilities related to making safe school zones, such as street markings, bus stops, pick-up and drop-off zones, bicycle lanes, as well as adding policemen to assist children crossing the street.
Fadrinsyah Anwar, the secretary of the research and development department also said that the Jakarta province has provided school buses since last year as an alternative to motorcycles, which serve as the most frequent cause of fatalities.
"Yet it all comes back to our social problem. Not many people agree to the plan and use the buses, instead of finding private vehicles more practical," Fadrinsyah said.
FIA Foundation executive director Saul Billingsley spoke to the Jakarta Globe on the sidelines of International Transport Forum’s 2018 Summit in Leipzig, Germany, and said that the proliferation of motorcycles is not only in Indonesia, but also in other countries in the region such as Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and the Philippines.
"The way you fix it is not to get people in cars. That’s not the solution. It’s not a solution to the environment. It’s not a solution long-term to safety or transport issues. The government should have an ambitious approach that everyone wears a helmet as they’re trying to do in Vietnam but also makes sure that helmet standards are strong and enforce them, and not allow cheap helmets into the country," he said.
He referred to the recent case study done by FIA Foundation and AIPF of the universal helmet law for motorcyclists in Vietnam. The law, introduced in 2007, came into effect the next year, when there was a decrease of 24 percent in injuries and 12 percent in fatalities.
However, though helmet-wearing adults had increased, the same did not occur among children. Helmet-use rates dropped from 35.8 percent in 2009 to 31.1 percent in 2010, meaning that children are still vulnerable to deaths and serious injuries, which is why there are still campaigns such as "Children Also Need a Helmet" and "Helmets for Kids."
Billingsley noted that there are some universal solutions to the road traffic issues, such as reducing speed by enforcement or by design (e.g. putting speed bumps on neighborhood roads), but since the contexts differ among countries, the demand for safe roads has to come from within the country. From there, they can decide what kind of international support they need best.
He said that his foundation’s report is meant to draw "more international noise and pressure for the issue."