Today, like every day, more than 3,400 people will lose their lives on the world’s roads. Many of them are young men and women at the start of their adult lives. Almost half of all road traffic deaths are among pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists.

The World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims (WDR) is a time to reflect on this tragic loss of life. It is also a time to talk about how to prevent death and serious injuries when we and our families drive, ride, or walk.

Let’s examine the key road crash factors identified by the WDR organizers and think about what we can do to change our driving, riding, or walking behaviors to reduce the risk to ourselves, those we love, and other road users.


Speeding is a major risk factor for crashes. In Vermont alone, in a recent five-year period (2010 to 2014), speed was a contributing factor in more than 1 of 4 (26 percent) of all fatal crashes. The highest number of speed-related crashes occurred in 35 and 50 mph speed limit zones.

What can we do?

  • Follow the speed limit.
  • Go slower when conditions are bad due to weather or traffic congestion.

Research shows that a five percent cut in the average speed of traffic results in a 30 percent reduction in the number of fatal road traffic crashes.

Impaired Driving (Alcohol/Drugs/Fatigue)

Drunk, drugged, and drowsy driving puts drivers, passengers, and others who share the road at risk.

After alcohol, THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), the active ingredient in marijuana, is the substance most commonly found in the blood of impaired drivers, fatally injured drivers, and motor vehicle crash victims.

According to the National Sleep Foundation’s 2005 Sleep in America poll, 60 percent of adult drivers (about 168 million people) say they have driven a vehicle while feeling drowsy in the past year. More than one-third (37 percent or 103 million people) have fallen asleep at the wheel. In fact, of those who have nodded off, 13 percent say they have done so at least once a month.

What can we do?

  • Don’t drink and drive
  • Don’t ride with anyone who has too much to drink.
  • Volunteer to be a designated driver.
  • Avoid travel after midnight (especially on Fridays and Saturdays).
  • Drive defensively.
  • Never use illegal drugs and check prescription and over the counter medications for side effects that could impair driving.
  • Never drive when fatigued. The dangers posed when fatigued are similar to those when intoxicated.

A drunk, drugged, or fatigued driver has slowed reactions and impaired judgment. And a driver who nods off at the wheel has no reactions and no judgment!

Non Use of Seat Belts

A total of 22,441 passenger vehicle occupants died in motor vehicle traffic crashes in 2015 in the US. More than 2.5 million drivers and passengers were treated in emergency departments as the result of being injured in motor vehicle traffic crashes in 2015. Many of these people were not wearing a seat belt.

What can we do?

  • Use a seat belt on every trip, no matter how short.
  • Require everyone in the car to buckle up, including those in the back seat.

Seat belts reduce serious crash-related injuries and deaths by about half.

Improper Use of Child Restraints

Motor vehicle injuries are a leading cause of death among children in the United States. During 2015, 663 children ages 12 years and younger died as occupants in motor vehicle crashes and more than 121,350 were injured in 2014.

What can we do?

  • Select the right seat for the age, weight, height, and development for any child in our care.
  • Install the seat according the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Make sure the harness or seat belt fits the child securely and properly.
  • Keep children riding in the back seat until they are 13 years old, even if they no longer need a car seat.

Failing to Wear Helmets

The latest vehicle mile travel data show motorcyclists are about 27 times as likely as passenger car occupants to die in a motor vehicle traffic crash and 6 times as likely to be injured. And while bicycle trips account for only one percent of all trips in the United States, bicyclists also face a higher risk of crash related injury and death than occupants in motor vehicles.

What can we do?

  • Wear a properly fitted helmet when riding a motorcycle or bicycle. If children don’t want to wear a helmet, find out why.

Some children don’t like to wear helmets because they fear they will be teased by peers for being “geeky” or because they think helmets are unattractive, uncomfortable, or hot. Talk about these concerns with children and choose a helmet they will want to wear.

Other prevention strategies for motorcyclists and bicyclists include:

  • Increasing visibility with lights and reflective materials

Follow the rules of the road. Being visible and following the rules (such as walking facing traffic and only crossing the street at a designated crosswalk or intersection) is important for pedestrians as well.


There are three main types of distraction:

  • Visual (eyes off the road)
  • Manual (hands off the wheel)
  • Cognitive (mind off of driving)

Sending a text message, talking on a cell phone, using a navigation system, and eating while driving are a few examples of distracted driving. Any of these distractions can endanger the driver and others but texting while driving is especially dangerous because it combines all three types of distraction. Texting while driving is about 6 times more likely to cause a crash than driving intoxicated.

The growing use and influence of technology by pedestrians has the potential to endanger them as well. In 2012, more than 1,500 pedestrians nationwide were treated in emergency rooms as a result of being injured while walking and engaged in cell phone conversations, which was more than twice the number reported in 2005, even though the total number of pedestrian injuries dropped during that time period.

What can we do?

  • Avoid distractions such as electronic devices.
  • Spend time in the car with new teen drivers. Discuss safety issues, including putting phones away when driving.
  • Be a good example when we drive.
  • Encourage teens to speak up when any driver, including mom or dad, is driving unsafely.

Deficient Road Infrastructure

Road infrastructure safety plays a key role in influencing the likelihood and severity of a road crash. Elements include road surfaces, curves and hills which affect how far a driver can see ahead and what speed is safe, the presence of traffic lights and signs, width of road edges/shoulders, accommodations for pedestrians and cyclists, and lighting.

What can we do?

This doesn’t sound like something any one individual can control, but there are things we can do.

  • Wear a seat belt or helmet, put children in car seats
  • Do not drive drunk, drugged, drowsy, or distracted
  • Signal your intentions
  • Keep your vehicle in good working order (brakes, headlights, wipers, tires, etc.)

More information about road safety and injury prevention can be found at the UVM Medical Center’s Safety and Injury Prevention Programs (including Child Car Seat Safety), Safe Kids, US Centers for Disease Control Motor Vehicle Safety, and Road Safety / NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration)

Maureen Johnson, Christina Keating, and Christine Dillon work in Trauma Services at  the University of Vermont Medical Center, specializing in various injury prevention programs.

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