WHO European Centre for Environment and Health
Accidents, Transport and Health
Via Francesco Crispi 10
00187 Rome
Tel: +39 06 4877545
Fax: +39 06 4877599.
Email: frr@who.it

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Cities must reduce road
traffic to save young lives

21 October 2003: The consequences of transport for health affect most of the population, not just drivers and passengers in motor vehicles. In Europe, air pollution accounts for about 100,000 premature deaths in adults annually; emissions from road traffic make up a significant share of this pollution. Each year, traffic accidents still kill about 120,000 people (a third of them aged under 25 years), and cause some 2.5 million injuries.

In addition, noise affects people physiologically and psychologically: about 120 million people in the European Union (more than 30 per cent of its total population) are exposed to seriously annoying road traffic noise levels above. More than 50 million people are exposed to noise levels considered to be detrimental to health. Physical inactivity is a major risk factor for ill health, and is associated to 5 to 10 per cent of deaths in Europe, where 20 to 30 per cent of adults are estimated to be obese.

Children are particularly vulnerable to traffic-related health effects, including injuries. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), road traffic accidents are the leading cause of death among children aged 5 to 14 years in high-income European countries and rank third, after war injuries and acute lower respiratory diseases, in medium- and low-income countries. Air pollution exacerbates asthma attacks and bronchitis episodes, while exposure to lead in fuel can have neuro-developmental effects. Exposure to high levels of noise at school reduce attention and may interfere with learning skills. In addition, along with diet, the lack of physical activity is the main risk factor in the mounting epidemic of obesity and overweight in European children.

Using healthy and sustainable transport alternatives can reduce the negative effects of transport on human health. This is why the WHO supported European Mobility Week (EMW), which took place on 16 to 22 September 2003 in hundreds of cities across Europe and culminated in the event ‘Car Free Day’.

Organised for the first time in September 2002, the European Mobility Week is a major initiative built on the Car Free Day and supported by the European Commission with the aim to promote sustainable urban mobility and raise public awareness on the negative impact of current urban mobility on our environment and quality of life. More particularly, the European Mobility Week is an opportunity to encourage citizens to change their travel behaviour and shift to more sustainable modes of transport.

The EMW invites cities to create partnerships with local associations and stakeholders and to set up long-lasting initiatives. Cities prove very innovative and creative in the organisation of activities. For example, the city of Leeds (UK) is launching accessibility maps to show people with reduced mobility how to circulate in town. A ‘shop mobility’ outlet will be set up, enabling people with reduced mobility to use an electric wheel chair to do their shopping.

The European Mobility Week is establishing itself as a truly European initiative. The number of cities taking part in the European Mobility Week in 2003 increased to more than 700, compared to 431 in 2002. Both initiatives – Mobility Week and Car Free Day - are also getting popular outside Europe. In Argentina, Taiwan, Canada, Mexico and Brazil cities are organising the Mobility Week and the Car Free Day based on the European experience.

Related report: London congestion charge

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