A roadmap for public safety

Seatbelts and eschewing mobile phones are essential for reducing injury toll


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Saudi Arabia has a lower incidence of brain and spinal cord injuries than many other  countries in the Middle East, but the kingdom could still do more to improve road safety and reduce the public health burden of head and neck trauma, a new study found.

An international research team that included scientists from KAIMRC led an extensive survey of more than 145 countries that tallied all the non-fatal cases of traumatic brain injury (TBI) and spinal cord injury (SCI) in 2016, and documented the causes of bodily harm.

The team counted more than 27 million new incidents of TBI and almost a million new cases of SCI around the world in that year — with Saudi Arabia accounting for around 120,000 and 3,000 injuries of each type, respectively.

After accounting for differences in age demographics and populations, the researchers found that Saudi Arabia was a fairly typical country when it came to these types of injuries. 

Compared to global averages, the kingdom’s incidence of TBI was slightly higher, while the incidence of SCI was somewhat lower. Looking back at data from a prior survey, they found that Saudi Arabia had made substantial progress in bringing down the incidence of both injuries by approximately 14% from 1990 levels. Over the same time period, occurrence of TBI went up around the world.

In many regions, falls accounted for most injuries. And in conflict-ravaged countries, war and terrorism are to blame. But in Saudi Arabia —where only around one-third of adults wear seatbelts, and talking on mobile phones while driving is routine — the main cause was traffic accidents.

In 2017, Saudi’s interior ministry said that more than 460,000 road accidents happen every year in Saudi Arabia, at an average of one per minute.

There are simple measures to reduce road injuries, notes Suliman Alghnam, an epidemiologist and public health researcher at KAIMRC who contributed to the study. He issues this warning to anyone driving down the Riyadh-Qassim Highway or the Makkah-Jeddah Expressway at the newly increased speed limit of 140 kilometres per hour, “Buckle up and put down the phone.”

Saudi Arabia may not have the same injury levels as war-torn Yemen but there are lessons to be learned from another country in the Arabian Peninsula, Oman, which has taken significant steps in recent years to improve road safety.

“Injuries are predictable, preventable and treatable,” Alghnam says. “We need to ensure the message is out to invest in primary prevention, because it will save lives and resources.”


  1. GBD 2016 Traumatic Brain Injury and Spinal Cord Injury Collaborators. Global, regional, and national burden of traumatic brain injury and spinal cord injury, 1990-2016: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2016. Lancet Neurolology 18, 56–87 (2019). | article

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