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Car manufacturers acting in the interest of profits rather than safety in poor countries

A study published today in the BMJ journal Injury Prevention calls for greater vigilance in ensuring that car manufacturers are fully committed to promoting road safety interventions that are based on sound evidence of effectiveness.

Every day, worldwide, around 30,000 people are seriously injured in road traffic crashes. Most of these are in low- and middle-income countries, and most are pedestrians and cyclists.

The World Bank believes that a partnership between business, non-governmental organisations and governments in these countries can deliver road safety improvements, and has established the Global Road Safety Partnership (GRSP) for this purpose. The partnership includes the car manufacturers General Motors, Ford, Daimler Chrysler and Volvo, and the drinks multinationals Bacardi-Martini and United Distillers.

After the establishment of the GRSP, however, serious concerns were raised that car markers would be unlikely to promote safety initiatives (for example, better public transport or pedestrian only streets in cities) that were in conflict with their commercial interests. The researchers sought to determine whether this was happening by conducting word frequency analyses of road safety documents from the GRSP and the World Health Organisation (WHO).

They compared the summary report of the World report on road traffic injury prevention, prepared by WHO and the World Bank, with the combined annual reports (2003-2005) or the GRSP, and looked at the prevalence and nature of road safety terms within them using a technique called 'word frequency analysis'. The GRSP documents were found to be substantially less likely than the WHO World report to use the words speed, speed limits, pedestrian, public transport, walk, walking, cycling and cyclist, but substantially more likely to use the words school, campaign, driver, training and billboard.

In addition, whereas the WHO/World Bank document emphasises the importance of speed reduction, particularly to promote the safety of pedestrians, a recommendation that is based on strong evidence, the GRSP documents talk about driver training and safety education campaigns, both of which the available research evidence show to be ineffective in reducing road injuries.

'We do not doubt the depth of road safety expertise within the partnership. The concern we sough to address is whether the GRSP would be able to persuade its commercial partners, many of which are major manufacturers, to fund road safety initiatives that might be seen to conflict with their commercial interests', explains Professor Ian Roberts, of the Department of Epidemiology and Population Health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and lead author of the study. 'Unfortunately, the findings reveal that this is not always the case. Although we welcome the contribution of the car makers in tackling the global road safety epidemic, we believe that vigilance is needed to ensure that the interventions that the industry supports are based on sound evidence of effectiveness.'

Lindsay Wright | EurekAlert!
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