Motor Vehicle Crashes Are the Number One Cause of Death for People Ages 3 to 33: How to Prevent This Tragedy

This means that every year, more than 1.19 million people lose their lives in road traffic accidents, and millions more are injured or disabled. This is a global public health crisis that affects not only the victims and their families, but also the society and the economy. How can we reduce the risk of motor vehicle crashes and save lives?

The Main Risk Factors for Motor Vehicle Crashes

There are many factors that contribute to the occurrence and severity of motor vehicle crashes, such as the road conditions, the vehicle design, the weather, and the traffic laws. However, the most important factor is the human behavior. Some of the common human errors that lead to motor vehicle crashes are:

  • Speeding: Driving faster than the speed limit or the safe speed for the road increases the likelihood of losing control, colliding with other vehicles or objects, and causing more damage and injuries.
  • Driving under the influence: Driving while impaired by alcohol, drugs, or medication reduces the ability to react, judge, and coordinate.
  • Distracted driving: Driving while using a mobile phone, eating, drinking, or doing anything else that takes the attention away from the road reduces the awareness of the surroundings and the response time.
  • Fatigued driving: Driving while tired, sleepy, or drowsy affects the concentration, vision, and decision-making.
  • Not wearing seat belts: Seat belts are the most effective way to prevent death and serious injury in a crash. Yet, many people still do not wear them or do not wear them properly.

The Safe System Approach to Road Safety

To prevent motor vehicle crashes and their consequences, it is not enough to rely on the individual drivers to behave responsibly. It is also necessary to have a comprehensive and coordinated approach that involves all the stakeholders in the road transport system, such as the government, the manufacturers, the engineers, the educators, the enforcers, and the media. This approach is called the safe system approach, and it aims to ensure a safe transport system for all road users.

The safe system approach recognizes that humans are fallible and that the system should be designed to accommodate human error. It also acknowledges that there are limits to the amount of force that the human body can tolerate in a crash, and that the system should be designed to prevent crashes that exceed these

  • Safe roads and roadsides: The roads and roadsides should be planned, designed, built, and maintained to reduce the risk of crashes and to minimize the impact of crashes that do occur. This includes providing adequate signage, lighting, markings, barriers, and shoulders, as well as separating different types of traffic, such as pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists, from fast-moving vehicles.
  • Safe speeds: The speed limits and the speed management should be set and enforced to match the road conditions and the road users. This includes using speed cameras, radars, and other technologies, as well as educating the public about the dangers of speeding and the benefits of obeying the speed limits.
  • Safe vehicles: The vehicles should be equipped with safety features and technologies that prevent crashes or reduce their severity. This includes airbags, seat belts, anti-lock braking systems, electronic stability control, and blind spot detection, as well as standards and regulations that ensure the quality and performance of the vehicles.
  • Safe road users: The road users should be aware of the road rules and the road risks, and they should behave in a safe and responsible manner. This includes obtaining proper training and licensing, avoiding impairment and distraction, wearing protective gear, and respecting the rights and needs of other road users.

The Role of Individuals in Road Safety

While the safe system approach requires the collaboration and commitment of all the actors in the road transport system, it also depends on the actions and attitudes of the individual road users. Each person has a role and a responsibility to contribute to road safety and to protect themselves and others from harm. Some of the things that individuals can do to prevent motor vehicle crashes are:

  • Follow the speed limits and adjust the speed according to the road conditions and the traffic situation.
  • Never drive under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or medication, and never get in a car with a driver who is impaired.
  • Avoid any distractions while driving, such as using a mobile phone, eating, drinking, or changing the radio station.
  • Take regular breaks and rest when feeling tired, sleepy, or drowsy, and avoid driving at night or for long periods of time.
  • Always wear a seat belt and make sure that all the passengers wear theirs too, especially children and infants, who should be secured in appropriate child restraints.
  • Drive defensively and courteously, and anticipate the actions and reactions of other road users, especially the vulnerable ones, such as pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists.
  • Be aware of the road rules and the road risks, and keep updated on the latest information and advice on road safety.


Motor vehicle crashes are the number one cause of death for people ages 3 to 33, and a major public health problem that affects millions of people around the world. However, this tragedy can be prevented if we adopt a safe system approach that involves all the stakeholders in the road transport system, and if we act as responsible and respectful road users. By doing so, we can save lives, reduce injuries, and make the roads safer for everyone.