Young People in Motorbike Accidents Now a Public Health Epidemic in Asia, Says WHO

Apr. 19, 2007

MANILA — The World Health Organization (WHO) says deaths and disabilities resulting from motorcycle accidents involving young people have become a public health epidemic in Asia, particularly in low and medium-income countries.

Young motorcyclists make up a significant percentage of injuries and fatalities among road users in many Asian countries, including Cambodia and Malaysia (see graph). Factors such as speed, no helmets, risk-taking behaviour and drink-driving contribute to the rising trend.

Nearly 1.2 million people worldwide die as a result of road traffic collisions every year. Of these, 40% are under the age of 25. Millions more people are injured and often remain disabled for life. In high-income countries, most of those killed or injured in road accidents are drivers of four-wheeled vehicles. But in low- and medium-income countries, vulnerable road userspedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists, and users of public transportmake up a larger proportion of those injured or killed.

In low- and medium-income countries, a motorcycle is a family vehicle, with children routinely transported as passengers. Helmets are rarely used, partly because of their cost and partly because of a lack of helmets for children.

Road traffic injuries are the second-leading cause of death globally for people aged 5-25 years. Every day, some 1000 people under the age of 25 years are killed in road accidents, and 85% occur in low-and medium-income countries.

Simple measures can be taken to make young people safer on the roads, said WHO as it marked observance of the First United Nations Global Road Safety Week, dedicated to youth and road safety, from 23 to 29 April. The measures include:

* speeding: setting and enforcing appropriate speed limits;
* drink-driving: setting and enforcing blood alcohol limits;
* seat belts, helmets and child restraints: introducing and enforcing mandatory seat belt, helmet and child restraint laws;
* road design and infrastructure: providing safer routes for pedestrians and cyclists, constructing speed bumps, separating different types of traffic; and
* emergency services: improving the emergency services from the crash scene to the health facility and beyond.

To coincide with the event, WHO released its Report on Youth and Road Safety, which calls for greater political will and for more financial investment in safety on the road.

The report indicated that most motorcycle deaths are a result of head injuries. While wearing a helmet correctly can cut the risk of death by almost 40%, and the risk of severe injury by 72%, many countries do not strictly enforce laws covering the use of helmets.

The report also cited a study that indicated that having a light-coloured helmet was found to be associated with a lower risk of an accident. It noted that 18% of road accidents could be avoided if non-white helmets were eliminated as they are easier to see. (WHO)

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