Road traffic kills 350,000 children a year

Anne Gulland
Pedestrians and vehicles jostle for space in Kanpur, India - AFP

A double whammy of road traffic accidents and air pollution is killing more than 350,000 children a year.

A report published by the charitable arm of motorsport’s governing body, the FIA Foundation, says 227,000 children and young people are killed every year in road traffic accidents and 127,000 are dying because of air pollution.

The report says that governments around the world are aware of the problem but little is being done to tackle it.

Road traffic injury is the fifth leading cause of death among children aged five to 14 years old and for every death, there is a “life-changing disability”, the report said. It estimates that 2.2million children and young people are injured every year by road traffic accidents.

Annual global deaths of children caused by road traffic

It also highlighted the disparity in deaths - 95 per cent of children killed and injured on the road are from low and middle income countries, despite the fact that there are fewer cars here than in high-income countries. The majority of those killed on the road are pedestrians, riding bicycles or are passengers on motorbikes.

The report highlights how 70 to 90 per cent of children in Africa walk to school but 90 per cent of roads with high speed traffic - travelling at more than 40 kilometres per hour - do not have pavements.

The report states: “Avoiding a calamitous and costly collision of demography, motorisation, poor urban planning and bad governance in sub-Saharan Africa must be a priority.”

By contrast, in high income countries children and adolescents are more likely to be killed as car passengers, particularly if they drive their own cars because they are more likely to use the oldest and least safe vehicles.

The report states: “In many emerging markets, where motorisation is rising rapidly in the middle class and vehicle ownership is seen as a badge of success, vehicle safety is often substandard, with consumers treated as second-class citizens.”

The world's worst traffic jams and commutes

Air pollution is also a danger, with 127,000 children dying in 2013 as a result of outdoor air pollution. The report acknowledges that it is impossible to separate deaths as a result of traffic pollution from pollution from other sources but “it is widely accepted that urban traffic pollution is a significant contributor to the problem”.

Two billion children live in areas breaching World Health Organization (WHO) air quality guidelines and “every day 300 million of these children are walking to school and playing in what can only be described as a poisonous, toxic soup”.

A report by the WHO earlier this month found that nine out of 10 people in the world breathe air containing high levels of pollution. The UK government’s recently published clean air strategy has pledged to cut pollution from both petrol and diesel-fuelled vehicles.

The report also highlighted obesity and overweight, with 124 million obese children and adolescents around the world and an estimated one billion adolescents not getting enough exercise. It called for the United Nations to take action on child and adolescent health.

Kevin Watkins, chief executive of Save the Children, said: "This report is a wake up call. Road traffic is now the leading cause of death for adolescents worldwide. We need to take action and back the call for a UN Summit on Child and Adolescent Health."

Protect yourself and your family by learning more about Global Health Security