This week marks the third United Nations Global Road Safety Week, spearheaded by the UN's public health arm, the World Health Organisation (WHO). The theme for this year's observance is #SaveKidsLives. In Kuwait we often focus on the obvious challenges facing traffic and road-users, such as the delays caused by peak-hour traffic jams.
However, I would suggest that every frequent road-user has seen the aftermath of a road accident and may even have been involved in an accident or touched by one in some way. Road accidents can have a devastating impact on our lives, particularly where children are concerned, and yet they are frequently preventable and the consequences can be mitigated by straightforward measures such as child seats.
According to figures from the Ministry of the Interior of the State of Kuwait, in 2014, almost 25 percent of all road accidents fatalities in Kuwait were victims aged 20 years and below.
A further 26.2 percent of road facilities involved victims in the 21 to 30 years age bracket. more than 230 young lives cut short on the roads in just one year. The UN has declared 2011-2020 to be the Decade of Action for Road Safety, in response to the dreadful toll that road accidents take around the world. More than 500 children are killed on the roads each day, making road traffic injury the number one cause of death for 15-17 years olds internationally and the fourth cause of death for five-nine years old internationally.
For the past three years, the United Nations has commemorated Global Road Safety Week to draw attention to these horrifying statistics and encourage governments and civil society to adopt safe practices to reduce accidents and reduce the harm caused by accidents.
The United Nations Development Programme is committed to supporting the State of Kuwait to address some of these challenges through its project to support the implementation of the national traffic strategy. This project is directed, among other goals, at building the capacity of Ministry of Interior personnel to improve emergency response times and identify traffic accident danger areas to improve overall traffic safety. Excessive speed is one of the major contributing factors to road fatalities and injury.
Research in Australia, another high-income country that has a relatively heavy reliance on motor vehicle transport, indicates that reducing the speed limit on highways from 110 k/h to 100k/h led to a 20 percent reduction in road fatalities in the state of South Australia. A simple illustration can demonstrate how effective this small difference can be: after a vehicle that had been travelling at l00 k/h has stopped moving, a vehicle that had been travelling at 110 k/h will still be travelling at 50 k/h and will need 14m to stop. The speed limit on Kuwait's ring roads and other arterial roads is 120 k/h. In recent years, the State of Kuwait has introduced stricter measures to promote road safety, including a ban on the use of mobile phones while driving. This effort is to be applauded.
Children are frequently seen sitting in the car without any child seat or booster seat that would offer crucial protection in the event of a crash. It is even commonplace to see children (sometimes more than one) sitting unrestrained in the front seat of the car. WHO estimates that the use of booster seats (as opposed to seat belts alone) for children aged four to seven years reduces the risk of children sustaining significant injuries during a crash.
By Dr. Mubashar Riaz Sheikh
UN Resident Coordinator/ UNDP Resident Representative in the State of Kuwait