The following opinion piece was published in Autonomy Paris Urban Mobility Weekly on May 6 2021

Every day, road crashes kill over 3,600 people across the world. 56 people are left quadriplegic, 161 are rendered amputees, 932 suffer severe acquired brain injuries and 20,865 suffer limb fractures. 102,835 predominately young people suffer life changing injuries or death. USD$6 billion of new costs are added to health, insurance and welfare costs. Every single day.

Urban mobility is a challenge all cities face as we push to increase sustainable transport modes that deliver efficiency and economic scale, balance climate considerations, and importantly, protect road users. A global standard of safer road infrastructure and safer speeds is providing the vaccines that roads need to reduce the risk to all users.

Creating a safe system for road users

Every crash type has an engineering or speed management solution that can save lives. Humans make mistakes and crashes will happen, but roads and city streets can be engineered to be self-explaining and forgiving of error. A 1-star road is the least safe and a 5-star road is the safest. Research shows that a person’s risk of death or serious injury on a road is halved for each incremental improvement in star rating through design or infrastructure improvements.

The 2020 Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety event in Sweden saw the endorsement of the United Nations Global Road Safety Performance Targets and the use of the iRAP global standard for 3-star and better roads to save lives and inform investment. The Second Decade of Action 2021-2030 has reaffirmed the ambitious target of halving the raw number of road traffic deaths and injuries by 2030. This second decade will continue to reinforce the 12 Global Road Safety Performance Targets, including Target 3 which calls for all new roads to be 3-star or better and Target 4, for >75% of travel to occur on the equivalent of 3-star or better roads by 2030.

How safe are the world’s roads?

Vaccines for Roads unlocks the potential of the world’s largest road infrastructure safety database to explore how safe the world’s roads are, the human and economic impacts of injury, road attributes that matter, and the Business Case for 3-star or better roads for all road users worldwide. Country profiles provide vital information for national governments and road safety decision-makers as the evidence-base for activity and investment to save lives. Based on a sample of 358,000 km of road assessments across 54 countries, an estimated 88% of travel for pedestrians and 86% of travel for cyclists was rated in the lowest 1-2 star rating for safety, representing real and present danger to vulnerable road users.

This is particularly concerning for children and young people, as road crashes are the main killer of those aged 5-29 years old. Providing safe and healthy streets for children and youth is a key issue for climate objectives, child and adolescent development, and urban mobility that takes all age groups into its consideration. Safe System urban design is necessary to protect our most vulnerable. Initiatives as the award-winning Star Rating for Schools (SR4S) support quick interventions that save lives and prevent serious injuries by measuring, managing and communicating the risk children are exposed to on their journey to school.

Designing for urban safety

High quality road design is essential to urban mobility’s need to take into account the needs of all road users. A supplement to the Global Street Design Guide – which provides the iRAP Star Ratings for existing and improved designs – helps road designers everywhere to understand the scale of the safety benefits that good road design can deliver. The Guide was originally released in 2016 by NACTO’s Global Designing Cities Initiative (GDCI) with the support of Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Bloomberg Initiative for Global Road Safety (BIGRS). Importantly, it is freely available, provides ideas to those wanting to make safety upgrades to their streets, and helps those making upgrades understand the safety benefits.

The design strategies highlighted aim to create a 5-star environment for all road users while supporting mobility outcomes for healthy, safe, sustainable, equitable, and liveable cities.
For example, a two-star intersection in a high-density neighborhood could get 5-stars by implementing simple solutions such as speed and parking management, improved delineation and pedestrian crossing facilities and footpaths. At major roads with a rating only 1 or 2 stars for pedestrians and cyclists, the maximum safety conditions could also be achieved with similar solutions in addition to protected cycle lanes.

What can we do?

We know road injury is preventable. We have the engineering know-how, a global road infrastructure safety standard for benchmarking, and free tools, training, and support to improve urban mobility with prioritised safety for all road users. Investing in safer roads and safer speeds will save lives and provide significant economic benefits. Achieving UN Targets 3 and 4 in the decade ahead stands to save 450,000 lives a year.

If you’re a policymaker shaping your next Road Safety Action Plan, consider including targets and actions outlined in iRAP’s Global Infrastructure KPIs, which provide the policy road map and recommended metrics for measuring success. Lives and serious injuries can be saved by:

  • Identifying and assessing high-risk roads
  • setting 3-star or better star rating targets in road infrastructure policies
  • ensuring no new unsafe 1- and 2- star roads are built
  • upgrading high-risk existing roads to a 3-star or better standard

By Rob McInerney, CEO of the International Road Assessment Programme (iRAP)

iRAP’s Decade of impact has been made possible thanks to the support of our major donor FIA FoundationFedEx, the Global Road Safety Facility (GRSF) and our more than 15,000 partners across the world.

Additional resources:


The International Road Assessment Programme (iRAP) is a registered charity with the vision for a world free of high-risk roads. Active in over 100 countries, iRAP works with governments, development banks, mobility clubs, research organisations and road safety NGOs across the world to provide them with the free tools, systems and training to make their roads safer. Join iRAP and YOURS at the Autonomy Digital 2.0 May 19 – 20, 2021 to hear great stories on young leadership to save lives.

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