Half of 1.27 million people who die in road traffic crashes every year are pedestrians or cyclists.

Half of 1.27 million people who die in road traffic crashes every year are pedestrians, cyclists or motor cyclists. So I found out by reading a recent report by the World Health Organisation while I was researching background information on a job for a client.

The first global assessment of road safety finds that almost half of the estimated 1.27 million people who die in road traffic crashes every year are pedestrians, motorcyclists and cyclists. While progress has been made towards protecting people in cars, the needs of these vulnerable groups of road users are not being met.
The Global status report on road safety published today provides the first worldwide analysis of how well countries are implementing a number of effective road safety measures. These include limiting speed, reducing drink-driving, and increasing the use of seatbelts, child restraints and motorcycle helmets. Funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies, the report presents information from 178 countries, accounting for over 98% of the world’s population. It uses a standardized method that allows comparisons between countries to be made.

“We found that in many countries, the laws necessary to protect people are either not in place or are not comprehensive. And even when there is adequate legislation, most countries report that their enforcement is low,” said WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan. “We are not giving sufficient attention to the needs of pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists many of whom end up in clinics and hospitals. We must do better if we are to halt or reverse the rise in road traffic injuries, disability and deaths.”

“Traffic crashes are a leading cause of death, particularly among young people 5 to 44 years of age,” said Mr Michael R. Bloomberg. “For the first time, we have solid data to hold us accountable and to target our efforts. Road safety must be part of all transport planning efforts, particularly at this moment of focus on infrastructure improvements and road building by many countries around the globe.”

Road traffic death rates increasing
While road traffic death rates in many high-income countries have stabilized or declined in recent decades, research suggests road deaths are increasing in most regions of the world and that if trends continue unabated, they will rise to an estimated 2.4 million a year by 2030. In addition, road crashes cause between 20 million and 50 million non-fatal injuries every year and are an important cause of disability. In many countries support services for road traffic victims are inadequate. These avoidable injuries also overload already stretched health-care systems in many countries.

The report documents numbers of registered motorized vehicles in each country and action being taken to invest in public transport and encourage non-motorized travel such as walking and cycling. Vehicle manufacturing standards and requirements for road safety audits were also reported, as well as the existence of formal pre-hospital care systems, including emergency telephone numbers.

Accurate statistics are crucial for understanding the state of road safety and measuring the impact of efforts to improve it. The report found that underreporting of deaths occurs in many countries, and that few countries have completely reliable data on road traffic injuries. The highest death rates are seen in the Eastern Mediterranean and African regions. The lowest rates are among high-income countries, such as the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

Other highlights of the report include:

  • Less than a third of countries meet basic criteria for reducing speed in urban areas.
  • Less than half of countries use the recommended blood alcohol concentration limit of 0.05 grams per decilitre as a measure to reduce drink-driving.
  • While helmet laws exist in more than 90% of countries, only 40% have a law that covers both riders and passengers while also requiring that helmets meet a specified standard.
  • Only 57% of countries have laws that require all car occupants to wear seat-belts. This figure is only 38% in low-income countries.
  • Half of all countries do not have laws requiring the use of child restraints (e.g., child seats and booster seats). This figure masks considerable variation, with relevant laws in 90% of high-income countries but only 20% of low-income countries.
  • Only 15% of countries have comprehensive laws which address all five of these risk factors.
  • Where laws on these risk factors are in place they are often inadequately enforced, particularly in low-income countries. For example, only 9% of countries rate their enforcement of speed limits as over 7 on a scale of 0 to 10, while the corresponding figure for enforcement of seat-belt laws is 19%.
  • “More than 90% of the world’s road deaths occur in low-income and middle-income countries, while these countries only have 48% of the world’s vehicles,” said Dr Etienne Krug, Director of WHO’s Department of Violence and Injury Prevention and Disability. “Our roads are particularly unsafe for pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists who, without the protective shell of a car around them, are more vulnerable. These road users need to be given increased attention. Measures such as building sidewalks, raised crossings and separate lanes for two wheelers; reducing drink-driving and excessive speed; increasing the use of helmets and improving trauma care are some of the interventions that could save hundreds of thousands of lives every year.”

    The report also shows that road traffic injuries remain very relevant in high-income countries. “Even the top performers globally are often stagnating and still have considerable room for improvement in achieving a truly safe road transport system,” Dr Krug said.

    Washington Post reports the city’s worst train smash.

    This excellent “traditional” reporting from Washington Post writers Rosalind S. Helderman and David A. Fahrenthold speaks for itself, in telling the story of the Metroline’s worst ever train crash in Washington earlier today. Anyone who commutes is made to think and consider for a moment or two.

    In the first car of the six-car Red Line train, on a sunny-day evening commute, passengers heard a message familiar to any Metrorail rider: The conductor said they were holding for a moment — there was a train ahead.

    The train started moving again, picking up to moderate speed.

    Then, without even the squeal of brakes as a warning, there was a crash and the feeling of being lifted up as the train hit one that was stopped.

    In the moments after the crash, passengers made tourniquets out of T-shirts, struggled to pull debris off others and sought to calm the hysterical and the gravely wounded. Inside the worst-hit car, waiting on ambulances and the “jaws of life,” an Anglican priest led a group in the Lord’s Prayer. On the ground below, a civilian Pentagon employee told a wounded girl that he wouldn’t accept her last wish, that she was going to live.

    Inside the car, there was dust and broken glass and blood. Seats had been ripped from the floor and thrown around: One man was trapped between two of them, with a leg that appeared broken. A woman was screaming, invisible, buried beneath a pile of seats.

    But the most incredible thing was the floor itself. It was gone, peeled away. Passengers could look down and see the grooved metal roof of another Metro train.

    “The front of the train just opened up,” said Marcie Bacchus, 30, who was among a handful of passengers in the car at the center of the deadliest accident in Metro’s 33-year history.

    The crash happened about 5 p.m. on an aboveground stretch of track that runs through neighborhoods between the Fort Totten and Takoma stations. Authorities said one Red Line train rear-ended another, hitting with such force that its first car was thrown on top of the other train.

    Brianna Milstead, 17, a high school student from Waldorf, was in that car. She could see out the front window, and she saw the other train getting closer, but it was too late to react.

    “It happened so quick,” Milstead said, looking at her ash-covered hands. “The floor smushed up. It was lifted up. I saw the debris flying toward me. I was choking on the smoke.”

    Dave Bottoms, 39, had just left his job as an Army chaplain at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The Anglican priest was in the back of the front car that slammed into the stopped train. When he saw the train buckling, it looked just like it would in the movies, he said.

    “It felt like it was going in slow motion,” he said. “I started praying.”

    In the chaotic moments after the crash, he went to a young woman who had been pinned between seats. She was hysterical, he said, but he began calming her.

    Meanwhile, the emergency exit and the doors were jammed. A middle-aged man on the train grabbed a fire extinguisher to break one of the car’s windows.

    When first responders arrived, Bottoms and two others initially refused to get off the train, wanting to continue to comfort the young woman pinned between the seats.

    “I just talked with her,” he said. “I told her to pray.”

    Passengers in other cars on the two trains said they felt a jolt, then opened the door and saw the wreckage: a car in the air, a man on the tracks. Some said they didn’t know what to do. Should they stay? Should they get off? They worried about the electrified third rail. In one group, a man said, “I’m getting off” and jumped out.

    Mike Corcoran, 39, who was in another car, said someone burst into his section after the impact and said help was needed at the back of the train. He ran back and saw a man and woman pinned between seats.

    Blood splattered the train’s windows, he said. Another woman was standing, he said, but her foot was bleeding profusely.

    Corcoran pulled off his polo shirt, quickly yanked off his undershirt and tied it around the woman’s foot as a tourniquet. He told her to keep pressure on it until help arrived.

    In the surrounding neighborhoods, residents were jolted by the sound of the crash and drawn to the scene, near where New Hampshire Avenue NE crosses over the Metro tracks.

    “The folks were beating on the windows, trying to get out. I saw some of them on their cellphones. You can tell they didn’t know what was going on, but they knew something had happened,” Jervis Bryant said. “They were just scared.”

    Linda Dixon, a Northeast Washington resident, was drawn by the sirens. She said she saw rescuers pull a man out of the wreckage on a stretcher, place him on the ground and pull a white sheet over him.

    Two hours later, the black van of the medical examiner’s office arrived. By then, the white sheet was stained with blood.

    “Oh God, it’s just horrible. I feel so terrible because you just know there’s somebody waiting for him to come home. He’ll never get there,” Dixon said.

    The crash’s impact rippled across Washington’s transportation network, crowding buses, stranding some travelers and leading others to commute on foot.

    “It was confusion. A lot of confusion. You had people trying to bum rush the buses,” said Anthony McLemore, 41, of Takoma Park, who got on the Red Line at Farragut North not knowing that there had been a crash. More than two hours later, he arrived at Fort Totten, trying to catch his second bus of the day. The commute “was horrific,” he said.

    Others across the region faced a different kind of wait, trying to figure out what happened to loved ones on the train.

    Sharon Hodge was standing behind police lines at Oglethorpe Street NW and Blair Road, searching for her son, when an ambulance drove by. She was screaming out, “Corey, Corey, can you hear me? You in there? Mama’s here!” Her cellphone rang shortly thereafter. It was Corey. He was being taken to Washington Adventist Hospital. The 26-year-old had been on one of the trains with his aunt.

    Afterward, passengers talked about coincidences, little things that had taken them just out of harm’s way. Savannah Green, 16, usually walks to the front car of the train to be closer to the exit at her destination. But yesterday, she was “too lazy” and got in the third car. She was not injured.

    China’s big test is one huge ordeal.

    Thanks very much to Adam Dean for suggesting this story. It’s from the New York Times and deals with China’s once and for all test which decides whether you can make it university…. or not. The photo is by Adam too – he has recently shot some great documentary material in Afghanistan.

    TIANJIN, China — For the past year, Liu Qichao has focused on one thing, and only one thing: the gao kao, or the high test.

    Some prepare for the test at a strict Tianjin boarding school.

    Fourteen to 16 hours a day, he studied for the college entrance examination, which this year will determine the fate of more than 10 million Chinese students. He took one day off every three weeks.

    He was still carrying his textbook from room to room last Sunday morning before leaving for the exam site, still reviewing materials during the lunch break, still hard at work Sunday night, preparing for Part 2 of the exam that Monday.

    “I want to study until the last minute,” he said. “I really hope to be successful.”

    China may be changing at head-twirling speed, but the ritual of the gao kao (pronounced gow kow) remains as immutable as chopsticks. One Chinese saying compares the exam to a stampede of “a thousand soldiers and 10 horses across a single log bridge.”

    The Chinese test is in some ways like the American SAT, except that it lasts more than twice as long. The nine-hour test is offered just once a year and is the sole determinant for admission to virtually all Chinese colleges and universities. About three in five students make the cut.

    Families pull out all the stops to optimize their children’s scores. In Sichuan Province in southwestern China, students studied in a hospital, hooked up to oxygen containers, in hopes of improving their concentration.

    Some girls take contraceptives so they will not get their periods during the exam. Some well-off parents dangle the promise of fabulous rewards for offspring whose scores get them into a top-ranked university: parties, 100,000 renminbi in cash, or about $14,600, or better.

    “My father even promised me, if I get into a college like Nankai University in Tianjin, ‘I’ll give you a prize, an Audi,’ ” said Chen Qiong, a 17-year-old girl taking the exam in Beijing.

    Outside the exam sites, parents keep vigil for hours, as anxious as husbands waiting for their wives to give birth. A tardy arrival is disastrous. One student who arrived four minutes late in 2007 was turned away, even though she and her mother knelt before the exam proctor, begging for leniency.

    Cheating is increasingly sophisticated. One group of parents last year outfitted their children with tiny earpieces, persuaded a teacher to fax them the questions and then transmitted the answers by cellphone. Another father equipped a student with a miniscanner and had nine teachers on standby to provide the answers. In all, 2,645 cheaters were caught last year.

    Critics complain that the gao kao illustrates the flaws in an education system that stresses memorization over independent thinking and creativity. Educators also say that rural students are at a disadvantage and that the quality of higher education has been sacrificed for quantity.

    But the national obsession with the test also indicates progress. Despite a slight drop in registration this year — the first decline in seven years — five million more students signed up for the test than did so in 2002.

    China now has more than 1,900 institutions of higher learning, nearly double the number in 2000. Close to 19 million students are enrolled, a sixfold jump in one decade.

    Liu Qichao, 19, a big-boned student with careful habits, plans to be the first in his family to go to college. “There just were not a lot of universities then,” said his father, Liu Jie, who graduated from high school in 1980 and sells textile machinery. His son harbors hopes of getting into one of China’s top universities.

    But the whole family was shaken by the results of his first try at the gao kao last June.

    The night before the exam, he lingered at his parents’ bedside, unable to sleep for hours. “I was so nervous during the exam my mind went blank,” he said. He scored 432 points out of a possible 750, too low to be admitted even to a second-tier institution.

    Silence reigned in the house for days afterward. “My mother was very angry,” he said. “She said, ‘All these years of raising you and washing your clothes and cooking for you, and you earn such a bad score.’

    “I cried for half a month.”

    Then the family arrived at a new plan: He would enroll in a military-style boarding school in Tianjin, devoting himself exclusively to test preparation, and retake the test this June.

    Despite the annual school fee of 38,500 renminbi (about $5,640) — well above the average annual income for a Chinese family — he had plenty of company.

    One of his classmates, Li Yiran, a cheerful 18-year-old, estimated that more than one-fourth of the seniors at their secondary school, Yangcun No. 1 Middle School, were “restudy” students.

    Ms. Li said she learned the hard way about the school’s strict regimen. When her cellphone rang in class one day, the teacher smashed it against the radiator. Classes continue for three weeks straight, barely interrupted by a one-day break.

    Days after most of their classmates left for home, Mr. Liu and Ms. Li were still holed up last week in their classrooms. Mr. Liu’s wrist was bruised from pressing the edge of his blue metal desk, piled with a foot-high stack of textbooks.

    Ms. Li’s breakfast was a favorite among test-takers: a bread stick next to two eggs, symbolizing a 100 percent score.

    Hours after they finished the test on Monday, both students had collected the answers from the district education bureau and begun the laborious process, with the help of their teachers, of estimating their scores.

    Mr. Liu calculated that his score leaped by more than 100 points over last year’s dismal performance. But he was still downcast, uncertain whether he would make the cutoff to apply to top-tier universities. The cutoff mark can vary by an applicant’s place of residence and ethnicity.

    Ms. Li, on the other hand, was exhilarated by her estimate of 482.5, figuring it was probably high enough for admittance to a college of the second rank.

    By Wednesday evening, both were buoyed by news of the cutoff scores for their district. His estimated mark was well above the one needed to apply to first-tier schools, and hers was a solid five points above the notch for the second tier.

    Before the test, Ms. Li’s aunt warned her that this was her last chance for a college degree. Even if she knelt before her mother and begged, her aunt said, her mother would refuse to let her take the test again.

    But Ms. Li, a hardened veteran of not one but two gao kao ordeals, had a ready retort: “Come on. Even if my mother kneels down before me, I will refuse to take this test again.”

    That’s what I call a Movie Premiere.

    Hooray! A first ever inclusion for the Sydney Morning Herald – who give us the news today that Saudi Arabia is showing its first public movie in the cinemas for many a year. Thanks to Richard Dean for drawing my attention to this story.

    Riyadh goes to the movies – for the first time
    June 8, 2009 – 6:27AM

    A few hundred Saudis braved a small band of religious hardliners to take part in an historic event on Saturday night: the first public showing of a commercial film in decades in the Saudi capital.

    With bags of popcorn and soft drinks in their laps, the men-only crowd of more than 300 in Riyadh’s huge King Fahd Cultural Centre cheered, whistled and clapped when the first scenes of the Saudi-made Menahi hit the screen and the film’s score erupted in surround sound.

    “This is the beginning of change,” said university student Ahmed al-Mokayed, attending with his brother and cousin.

    Businessman Abdul Mohsen al-Mani, who brought his two sons to the film, was ecstatic, after being denied public cinema for some three decades.

    “This is the first step in a peaceful revolution,” he said.

    “I don’t want my two sons to grow up in the dark … I told them that in the future they will talk about today like a joke,” he added.

    It was long in coming — and no one is certain that it will launch a thriving public cinema industry, with strident opposition from clerics who regard film, music and other entertainment as violating Islamic teachings.

    Police at the venue had to fend off a small band of conservative Muslims who warned that films were bringing disasters on the country, citing a recent series of minor earthquakes in western Saudi Arabia.

    “Allah is punishing us for the cinema,” one said. “It is against Islam.”

    “Menahi”, a comedy about a Saudi country bumpkin getting lost in the big city, was shown in December to huge crowds in the relatively free-wheeling Red Sea city of Jeddah.