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A business case for safer roads

Worldwide, 1.24 million people are killed in road crashes each year. Maximising travel on three star or better roads for all roads users will save lives. Affordable road improvements, such as footpaths, safety barriers, bicycle lanes and paved shoulders make economic sense. 

This simple analysis helps to illustrate the benefits - in terms of deaths and serious injuries prevented and economic savings - that could be achieved over 20 years by improving the star rating performance of just 10% of each country's roads. 

The analysis supports the compelling case for the United Nations post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals to halve road traffic deaths (goal 3.6); invest in infrastructure to create growth and jobs (goal 9.1) and ensure that transport is safe and sustainable (goal 11.2). Setting targets for 'x% of travel on 3 star or better roads by 2020' and ensuring 'All new and improved roads are built to 3-star or better standards for all road users' will create the robust policy mechanism for these benefits to be unlocked and the UN SDGs to be achieved.



Country income category: Low Lower middle Upper middle High All
Number of countries 33 49 47 49 178
Current situation        
Annual fatalities
(per 100,000 pop)
1,225,000 *
Annual fatalities and serious injuries (FSI) 1,408,000 5,434,000 5,599,000 1,034,000 13,640,000
Annual cost of FSI $20 billion
(5% of GDP) 
$200 billion
(5% of GDP) 
$780 billion
(5% of GDP) 
$850 billion
(2% of GDP) 
$1,860 billion
(3% of GDP) 
What could be achieved          
Improve 10% of roads 108,000 km 610,000 km 992,000 km 1,546,000 km 3,255,000 km
Build viable countermeasures $8 billion $61 billion $149 billion $464 billion $681 billion
Reduction in fatalities 384,000 1,483,000 1,528,000 283,000 3,678,000
Reduction in fatalities and serious injuries 4,224,000 16,313,000 16,808,000 3,113,000 40,458,000
Economic benefit $83 billion $663 billion $2,766 billion $2,202 billion $5,715 billion
Benefit cost ratio 11 11 19 5 8


Assumptions, notes and references

 * Data for some countries is not available. This explains why the total number of deaths is less than the WHO's worldwide estimate.

Analysis in US dollars.

Annual fatalities:
Estimated number of road traffic deaths (point estimate) in 2010, WHO (2013) Global Status Report on Road Safety 2013.

Annual fatalities and serious injuries:
It was assumed that 10 serious injuries occur for each death. McMahon, K. and Dahdah, S. (2008) The True Cost of Road Crashes: Valuing Life and the Cost of a Serious Injury.

Annual cost of FSI:
This is the estimated cost of fatalities and serious injuries. It was assumed that a road fatality costs 70 x GDP per capita and that a serious injury costs one quarter of a fatality. The exception to this is for low income countries, where the cost of a fatality was 100 x GDP per capita. McMahon, K. and Dahdah, S. (2008) The True Cost of Road Crashes: Valuing Life and the Cost of a Serious InjuryInternational Monetary Fund (IMF) World Economic Outlook Database.

Improve 10% of roads:
The majority of serious crashes occur on a small proportion of the world's roads. See for example: RSF (2014) British EuroRAP 2014 Results: How Safe Are You On Britain’s Roads?and OECD (2008) Towards Zero, Ambitious Road Safety Targets and the Safe System Approach. For this analysis, it was assumed that half of a nation’s fatalities occur on 10% of its roads.  Total road lengths were obtained from: CIA World Factbook.

Build viable countermeasures: 
It was assumed that road improvements would cost: $300,000 per km in high-income countries, $150,000 per km in upper-middle income countries, $100,000 per km in lower-middle income countries and $70,000 per km in low-income countries. These costs are based on data gathered by iRAP during assessments of more than 300,000km of road. 

Reduction in fatalities (and serious injuries):
Reductions are over 20 years. It was assumed that safety improvements would reduce fatalities and serious injuries by 30%. This is based on aggregate analysis of iRAP assessments that identify economically viable countermeasures (those with a benefit cost ratio greater than 1). iRAP Road Attribute Factsheets describe the risk factors used in the iRAP atv parts models.

Economic benefit:
The present value of fatalities and serious injuries prevented over 20 years. The discount rate used was 4%.

Benefit cost ratio:
The present value of the economic benefit divided by the present value of the cost to improve roads. It is noted that in five countries (Estonia, Iceland, Kiribati, Marshall Islands and San Marino) the analysis led to benefit cost ratios of less than 1. Nevertheless, in these countries there are still numerous high-return countermeasure options available.

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