Pretoria - From South Africa to New Zealand, to Mexico and all the way to the Russian Federation, governments are committing to take new steps to save lives on their roads.
Dozens of countries around the world kick off the first global Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020 on May 11.
The Decade seeks to prevent road traffic deaths and injuries, which experts project will take the lives of 1.9 million people annually by 2020.
To mark the launch of the decade, the governments of Australia, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Kuwait, Malaysia, Mexico, Niger, Nigeria, the Philippines, Slovenia, Sri Lanka, Uzbekistan and Vietnam will host high-profile events and release national plans to improve safety and services for victims.
A number of landmark national monuments will be illuminated with the road safety tag, the new symbol for the Decade.
These include Times Square in New York City; Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro; Trafalgar Square in London; and the Jet d'Eau in Geneva, among others.
World Health Organisation (WHO) Director-General, Dr Margaret Chan, said: "Today, countries and communities are taking action vital to saving lives on our streets and highways.
"Road traffic crashes are a growing health and development concern affecting all nations, and the Decade offers a framework for an intensified response."
Road traffic injuries have become the leading killer of young people aged 15-29 years.
Almost 1.3 million people die each year on the world's roads, making this the ninth leading cause of death globally.
In addition to these deaths, road crashes cause between 20 million and 50 million non-fatal injuries every year.
In many countries, emergency care and other support services for road traffic victims are inadequate and these avoidable injuries overload already stretched health services.
WHO Director of the Department of Violence and Injury Prevention and Disability, Dr Etienne Krug, said: "None of us should have to bear the grief and devastation caused by a road traffic crash.
"The steps outlined in the Global Plan for the Decade are immediately doable, and will do much to spare the suffering of so many."
The Global Plan outlines steps towards improving the safety of roads and vehicles, enhancing emergency services, and building up road safety management generally.
It also calls for increased legislation and enforcement on using helmets, seat-belts and child restraints and avoiding drinking and driving and speeding.
Today, only 15 percent of countries have comprehensive laws which address all of these factors.
Pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists collectively represent almost half of those killed on the world's roads. Most of the progress has been made in the last few decades has been towards protecting people in cars.
The Global Plan suggests measures that may afford these vulnerable groups protection such as building cycle and footpaths and separate motorcycle lanes or improving access to safe public transport.
If successfully implemented, the Global Plan's activities could save five million lives, prevent 50 million serious injuries and lead to US$ 5 trillion in savings over the course of the Decade.
The Decade also aims to attract donor funding to this issue. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has already committed US$ 125 million to support road safety in low-income and middle-income countries -- by far the largest single donation to road safety.
WHO will play a role in coordinating global efforts over the Decade and will monitor progress towards achieving the objectives of the Decade at the national and international levels.