Alejandra Forlán was an energetic 17-year-old who loved to dance, play sports, and spend time at the beach near her home in Montevideo, Uruguay. Her life dramatically changed, however, on the tragic night of September 14, 1991. It was raining heavily when Alejandra and her boyfriend were returning from her cousin's birthday party. Neither teenager was wearing a seatbelt. As the car maneuvered its way down a dilapidated road, water that had collected on the road caused it to veer into the lane of on-coming traffic and crash into a tree. Alejandra's boyfriend died instantly and Alejandra suffered severe damage to her spinal cord that left her quadriplegic and in the hospital for the next seven months. Since then, intensive physical therapy and a degree in psychology have equipped Alejandra to become a tireless advocate for measures to improve road safety. She is the president of the foundation that bears her name and the vice president of the National Road Safety Agency (UNASEV).
Sadly, this sister of soccer star Diego Forlán is one among millions of people whose lives have been devastated by the crisis on the world's roads.
Each year, more than 1.2 million people die in motor vehicle incidents and an estimated 20 to 50 million people suffer nonfatal injuries. By 2015, road accidents are predicted by the World Health Organization to be the leading cause of premature death and disability for children aged five and above, and annual global deaths are projected to reach 1.9 million by 2020. The social and economic costs of this epidemic are astounding. Health losses due to road accidents have already surpassed malaria and tuberculosis as global burdens of disease. By 2030, health losses from road accidents are projected to rank second only to those from HIV/AIDS.
Developing countries, in particular, are bearing the brunt of this crisis, with road deaths in these countries accounting for 90 percent of global fatalities. In Latin America and the Caribbean, more than 100,000 people die each year as a result of crashes. In fact, the road death rate in the region is nearly double the world average, at 16.3 fatalities per 100,000 inhabitants. If left unchecked, it is expected to rise to 24.3 by 2020. Crashes in the region are the leading cause of death for youth between the ages of 15 and 29, and the second cause of death for children between the ages of five and fourteen. The current economic cost amounts to between one and two percent of GDP in many of the region's countries and an estimated US$19 billion annually throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.
The escalation of this epidemic is not inevitable, however, and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), is taking a proactive approach in collaboration with its member countries to reduce the number and severity of traffic incidents. For the past five decades, the IDB has been a significant source of technical assistance and financing for road rehabilitation and construction projects. In 2011, road and urban transport projects will account...