Action to prevent traffic injury and improve health must be co-ordinated

In the briefing document for local authorities and their partners, Reducing unintentional injuries on the roads among children and young people under 25 years, Public Health England (PHE) has identified three actions that will have an important impact in reducing injuries and deaths.

This article focuses on the third element – action to prevent traffic injury and improve health must be co-ordinated. Activities designed to promote healthy lifestyles such as as encouraging walking and cycling also have road safety implications and when well planned can contribute to reducing rates of traffic injuries, but they need close co-ordination between the parties involved to be most effective.

This article covers:

The injury data

PHE’s analysis of police-reported road casualty data (STATS19) over the five year period 2008-2012 shows that across England there were 2,316 deaths and 35, 783 serious injuries among road users under the age of 25 years. 

There were 322,613 casualties of all severities recorded by the police and these are likely to be underestimates of the total number of injuries. There were 68,657 emergency admissions to hospital as a result of road traffic injuries.

Children begin to be much more vulnerable when they make the transition to secondary school. Casualty rates shoot up when they begin to travel to school independently. The injury rates become even higher after young people start using cars and motor cycles legally. In 2012, one in every 1,250 young people aged between 15-24 years suffered a serious or fatal traffic injury.

The injury rates for school aged pedestrians are much higher among those living in the 20% most deprived areas.

The cost of unintentional injuries

The Annual Report of the Chief Medical Officer 2012 Our Children Deserve Better: Prevention Pays highlights the strong economic case for preventing childhood injuries. The costs to the NHS for hospital admissions alone total just under £24 million every year. Over the last five years, this has led to a direct cost to the NHS of around £120 million. This figure excludes other costs – including many that impact on local authorities – such as A&E attendances, long-term treatment, social care, social security costs and productivity losses.

Co-ordinating activities

PHE emphasises that many actions that are known to prevent traffic injuries will also help improve other areas of public health. Safer streets will encourage active travel, so co-ordination is essential.

Active travel, walking and cycling, is important because physical inactivity increases the risk of disease and illness. Community cohesion improves when people are out and about and there are benefits from reductions in noise and air pollution. But the fear of injury can put people off cycling and walking. Creating safer roads can help reduce these concerns.

Local authorities have statutory duties to promote road safety and to improve the health of the people who live in their areas. Strong partnerships across local authorities and with other partners such as communities, fire and rescue, police, schools and businesses will strengthen activities to address a broader range of public health issues including tackling factors that contribute to injury inequalities linked to social deprivation.

The government’s desire to build on the legacy of the London Olympics and Paralympics including the promotion of ‘active people, active places and active communities’ recognises the importance of taking a cross-sectoral approach.

Planning and evaluation

PHE highlights that the planning and evaluation of road safety activities should consider the positive impact on other health issues, as well as any unintended negative consequences, such as reductions in the number of people walking and cycling due to an increased fear of traffic injury.

This work is only possible if there are strong links between public health and transport teams within local authorities. Public health specialists who understand transport planning can help make that link.

More information

Updated December 2014