Road accidents: The leading cause of death and disabilities

According to World Health Organization (WHO), road traffic injuries are among the leading causes of death and life-long disability globally. About 1.35 million people die annually on the world’s roads, with 20 to 50 million sustaining non-fatal injuries.

Globally, road traffic injuries are reported as the leading cause of death among young people aged 15 to 29 years and are among the top three causes of mortality among people aged 15 to 44 years.

Also, road traffic injuries cause considerable economic losses to individuals, their families, and to nations as a whole. These losses arise from the cost of treatment as well as lost productivity for those killed or disabled by their injuries, and for family members who need to take time off work or school to care for the injured. WHO estimates that road traffic crashes cost most countries three per cent of their gross domestic product.

Everyone is at a risk of being involved in a road traffic accident, although some groups of people are generally at a more increased risk of being involved in road traffic accidents and sustaining life threatening injuries, such as head injuries.

More than 90 per cent of road traffic deaths occur in low and middle-income countries globally. Road traffic injury death rates are highest in the African region. Even within high-income countries, people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are more likely to be involved in road traffic crashes.

Statistically, males at any age are at a more increased risk of being involved in road traffic accidents than females. About 73 per cent of all road traffic deaths occur among young males under the age of 25 who are almost three times as likely to be killed in a road traffic crash as young females.

Measures to reduce these road traffic fatalities seem quite obvious to everyone but are often times overlooked.

Over speeding, driving under influence of alcohol or substance abuse, distracted driving (drivers using mobile phones are approximately four times more likely to be involved in a crash than drivers not using a mobile phone). Non-use of protective measures such as helmets for motorcycle and bicycle users (correct helmet use can lead to a 42 per cent reduction in the risk of fatal injuries and a 69 per cent reduction in the risk of head injuries, WHO); or not using car seat-belts (seat-belt reduces the risk of death among drivers and front seat occupants by 45  to 50 per cent, and the risk of death and serious injuries among rear seat occupants by 25 per cent, WHO); and ignoring use of baby car seats (use of child restraints can lead to a 60 per cent reduction in deaths), are still responsible for most injuries as a result of road traffic accidents.

In low-income and middle-income countries, speed is estimated to be the main contributory factor in about half of all road crashes. For example, studies have shown that pedestrians have been found to have a 90 per cent chance of survival when struck by a car travelling at 30 km/h or below, but less than 50 per cent chance of surviving an impact at 45 km/h. Pedestrians have almost no chance of surviving an impact at 80 km/hr.

Rwanda has implemented many measures to reduce on incidences of these road traffic accidents, and these are undoubtedly preventing many road fatalities. Some of these include; speed limit controls, strict laws on helmets, seatbelt usage, discouraging drink-driving or use of mobile phones while driving, yearly police motor vehicle inspections, as well as improved road infrastructure.

Improved health care, measures for immediate transfer of victims to hospitals and increased availability of experts in managing these fatal injuries in hospitals, are among the factors improving survival of some of the road traffic accident victims in Rwanda.

The increase in number of neurosurgeons in the country has a great impact on reduction of deaths from severe head injuries, a leading cause of death in these road traffic accidents.